Six people find themselves imprisoned in a maze of identical rooms, littered with deadly traps. As exhaustion and paranoia sets in, the group must somehow find a way before they are destroyed by the labyrinth…or each other.
The set-up of “a group of strangers wake up in somewhere with no memory of how they got there” is a movie staple, but perhaps it has never been executed quite as well as in Cube. The rules of the game are established early and watching the group try to survive and progress whilst also piecing together their own backstories is hugely absorbing.
The traps are the selling point, but the film never relies on them as a gimmick. A prologue scene shows a character introduced, then immediately diced by a wire mesh to showcase the dangers, but the meat of the story is more about uncovering the nature of the maze and how to escape rather than on inventive ways to kill people.
The characters include veteran cop and erstwhile leader, Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), twitchy doctor Holloway (Nicky Guardagni), mousy teen Leaven (Nicole de Boer), surly nihilist Worth (David Hewlett), prison break specialist Rennes (Wayne Robson) and autistic loner Kazan (Andrew Miller). Most get strong arcs and are well-written, although some of the acting (most notably Wint’s bug-eyed over-the-top performance) undercuts matters a little.
As the group progress further into the maze and begin decoding the numbers inscribed on the doors to each room, tempers begin to fray. Director Natali shows incredible ability here to avoid repetition despite the film primarily consisting of people shouting at each other in the exact same room. He switches to 10mm lenses for a distorted, wide-angle view, he shoots from low down, he keeps most shots handheld for a sense of urgency that could be easily lost given the nature of the scenario.
The result is a compelling and unique sci-fi thriller that still feels fresh even 20 years later. The two sequels may have not lived up to it, but Cube is a striking piece of work well worth seeking out.
Natali would go on to make further high-concept/low-budget genre films like Nothing, Splice and Haunter, but in recent years has been directing episodes of high-end television with shows like Hannibal, Westworld, The Strain and American Gods. Hopefully his talents will return to the big screen soon.
There is a tiny interview with Nicole de Boer and some storyboards but the main extra is a commentary track featuring Natali, Hewlett and co-writer Andre Bijelic. They cover a lot of ground in the commentary, explaining how the entire film was shot on only a single set missing a wall and some of the ingenuity involved in bringing things to life. There is also obvious affection between the trio, who have worked together on multiple projects, making it a breezy and enjoyable listen.