If you don’t like cube steak, then you’re going to hate the first five minutes of “Cube.” Hold on to your seats (and lunch) as a man wakes up in a strange cubicle, with exits on all four walls. He doesn’t know how he got there, but he does know if he’s going to survive, he’s going to have to find a way out.
Sweat beading off his bald head, the man cautiously crawls through the hatch on the wall from one cubicle to another. Believing he’s safe, the man takes a step forward. Then he just stands there, powerless, as though some invisible force has stopped him. At first it appears as if the man is just stunned. Then his face starts bleeding. Little drops at first. Then the skin starts to peel off in perfect little chunks. Cut to his hand, where his fingers break away into perfect little chunks. Close-up on the head, where the guy’s skull separates into perfect little chunks, falling to the ground. Oh look, there on the floor, perfect little chunks I threw up watching this little exercise in human dismemberment. I didn’t really throw up. Actually, I thought it was pretty neat, a perfect start to a tidy little thriller from co-writer/director Vincenzo Natali. The guy ended up walking through an invisible mesh wire that works like those old Veg-A-Matics they used to sell at Thrifty for $19.95. Working on a tight budget, Natali and his crew do a bang-up job of creating suspense and tension in what is basically a one-room set. “Cube” isn’t a character study, although the characters are memorable. They don’t sit around hashing out life’s little foibles as if they just sat through a “Jerry Seinfeld” marathon. Instead, the motley group of strangers who find themselves trapped inside the “Cube” spend all of their time trying to find a way out. Like a great “Twilight Zone” episode, none of the characters know why they’re inside the “Cube.” All they know is that they will die if they stay put. They also know that some of the adjoining rooms are booby trapped to kill all intruders. The writers wisely dispense with informal background chit chat and stay focused on the matter at hand. At 90 minutes, the film maker’s have made the “Cube” as tight and efficient as they can. It’s not without flaws, but it is gripping entertainment. Natali and co-writers Andre Bijelic and Graeme Manson quickly set up the premise, and they allow it to pay off. They have named all of their characters after famous prisons, and make it clear from the beginning that no one is indispensable. Don’t bother to cozy up to any of the characters, because Natali seems to delight in killing them off. By changing the camera angle or the color of the gels in the wall, director of photography Derek Rogers manages to make so little look like a lot more. Rarely do you believe that there’s only one set. The actors are fine, but not very memorable. They get in, get the job done, and get out, and that’s fine with me. “Cube” isn’t a great film, nor is it great science-fiction. It’s a gripping little thriller that doesn’t come with any pretenses and constantly surprises.
VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind
Excellent transfer in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, with well defined color saturation, solid blacks and flattering flesh tones. Nary a trace of compression artifacts. The images are strong and vivid, and the picture show good depth of field.
HEARING: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf
The Ultra Stereo surround soundtrack is good but not overwhelming, and far from definitive. Since most of the action takes place in a one room set, there’s not much need for kick ass stereo effects. The dialogue mix is strong, while Mark Korven’s musical score fills the back speakers. There’s some attempts at spatial separation, but they’re mostly wasted.
ORAL: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Good [ ] Poor
Closed captions in English and subtitles in French and Spanish.
COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak
“Cube” isn’t a special edition, but it does contain enough extras to qualify. There’s a running audio commentary with director Natali, actor David Hewlett and co-writer Andre Bijelic. These guys have known each other forever, and this is their first feature-length film. Their audio commentary is sprinkled with the youthful enthusiasm of first time film makers. It’s a pleasure to sit and listen to these guys talk about the ups and downs of pulling off a low budget, independent film. Lots of front line information and tips. The DVD also features deleted scenes, comparison and alternate storyboards, production and schematic set design, plus F/X artwork. You also get the original theatrical trailer, production notes, and handsome main and scene access menus. As an added bonus, click on the Trimark logo on the main menu and you’ll find three coming attraction trailers: “Slam,” “Carnival of Souls,” and “The Curve.”
PROGNOSIS: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal
“Cube” is a tidy little thriller that accomplishes so much with so little. It’s worth a look.
VITALS: $29.99/Rated R/90 Minutes/Color/24 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#VM6914D
ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen
BIRTH DATE: 1997
HMO: Trimark Home Video