Cube, a Canadian film co-written and directed by Vincenzo Natali,
can best be described as Sartre's No Exit crossed with Pirandello's
Six Characters in Search of an Author filtered through Agatha Christie,
Rod Serling and John Carpenter. Intrigued? Well. . .
The film's storyline is a cliché: a mixed group of people are forced
together and must struggle to survive. This plot has informed good films
(James Whale's The Old Dark House, Hitchcock's Lifeboat) to the schlocky
"disaster" films popular in the early 1970s (i.e., The Towering Inferno).
To their credit, Natali and his co-writers don't waste any time. The
pre-credit sequence establishes the world of the film: a maze of connecting
chambers of varying colors with doors on every wall, ceiling and floor.
Some rooms are booby trapped (as the unfortunate victim in the opening
sequence learns); others aren't. Somehow there's a way out. Gradually,
we meet the six major players: a thief who excels at escaping prisons,
a cop, a female physician, an office drone, a female college student and
an autistic man. None of them knows why he or she has been imprisoned
and neither does the audience. Natali thrusts the audience into the story
as the group eventually comes together and learns they must cooperate
in order to save themselves. It is only when he and his co-writers stop
to try to flesh out these individuals that the film bogs down. Not only
are the expository scenes dull and riddle with stereotypes but the
dialogue sounds forces and clunky. Instead of having the desired effect
of encouraging audience empathy, these scenes merely bore.
Somewhere in the film is an interesting idea but I had the feeling
I'd seen and heard it all before. The audience is never clued into why
these six people are the subject of the film. And more questions
are raised than are answered, like what does the cube represent?
Is it hell? Is it reality? Who is behind the imprisonment? Space aliens?
The government? How did these people get there? Why should we care
about them? And on and on. Natali does show the occasional flair for
staging tense scenes and since there are no "stars" per se the audience
really doesn't know who, if anyone, will survive. What also is astounding
about this film is the production design and special effects. This is a
low-budget flick but the craftsmanship of the setting — the design of
the cube and its booby traps looks great. Natali's background is as a
storyboard artist so it comes as no surprise that the look of the film
takes precedence to the actors.
In a film like Cube where the characters remain one-dimensional,
it becomes difficult to assess the contributions of the mostly Canadian
cast. All were relatively new to me so I cannot even judge them based
on other work. Of the six major players, Andrew Miller as the autistic man
looks appropriately angelic, while Nicole de Boer as the young math
student shows spunk. David Hewlett attempted to inject some angst
into his bored office worker who may know more about the prison than
he lets on. The acting honors. If such a thing can be bestowed, however,
belong to Maurice Dean Wint as the cop who takes on a role of
leadership. Wint has moments of charismatic appeal but he is saddled
with some of the more inane dialogue.
Cube has the feel of a comic book come to life. It shows some
promise but its plot structure devolve into something that feels warmed
over. Not that there aren't surprises along the way. But when it flirts with
existentialism or bogs down in complicated mathematics (something
which Darren Aronofsky's Pi handled with more finesse), Cube disappoints.
It's unfortunate but it's like playing with the popular late '70s, early
'80s Rubik's cube puzzle. It's engrossing for a time but after a while all
you feel is frustration.
|© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.