When I was a young child I remember walking into a room at a family friend’s part and watching the first gruesome scene in the movie. The moment was so unexpected and shocking that I ran out of the room and desperately tried to forget this movie. Nearly 15 years later, I have to say I’m happy I ran out of the room that day, because a younger me could never appreciate the philosophical complexity inherent at the heart of Vincenzo Natali’s science-fiction thriller, Cube.
The plot follows a group of randomly plucked strangers who have all mysteriously found themselves in a cube-shaped room. Each wall of the cube has a doorway to a similar shaped room. But from the first scene, the movie assures us that nothing is safe or truly secure. Certain cubes will kill anyone that enters them- so moving always risks possible death. This simple, yet elaborate set-up, constantly keeps every scene tinged with suspense.
From the very first moments, the movie feels tense and disturbing. The screen always feels claustrophobic because of the closed off nature of the set. The special effects on display are amazing and made the early deaths believable. In fact one of them feels like a real “omae wa mo shinderu” moment, and I visibly gasped when I saw it. The dread of knowing that you’re already dead and having to experience – that’s blood-chilling. The best part? This is just the first death of the movie.
What makes the movie work so well is how believable and well fleshed out all the characters are. Most members of the group take actions that seem justified- making them feel competent and REAL. The second act is where a lot of the dialogue happens and the characters become fleshed out and nuanced. Some of them even feel like call outs of tropes of the “roles” each of them fit in the genre. This made me care for them, good or bad, so the more gruesome moments were more resounding.
Philosophically, the movie shines. It felt like an examination into humanity’s attempts at creating patterns and meaning. For example, if I see a pattern like “12312312_” I’d assume that the next number in the chain is a “3” but that’s because I assume the base of the pattern to be “123.” If the base was actually ” 1231231245″ then next number from the above chain would be “4”. As such any attempt at understanding a pattern assumes some kind of context that can help discern them from merely random fluctuations. The movie plays on the characters and the audiences use of this behavior and deliberately creates a sense of doubt over the truthfulness of certain assumptions the group has made.
Throughout the film, the characters try to find patterns in the cubes or reasons for the presence of random objects , but because they’ve been placed in a situation where they don’t have any real context, they’re forced to guess on the “bases.” This creates this terrifying philosophical undercurrent the entire movie that helps highlight not only the thoughts and feelings the characters are having, but also remove any and all sense of expectation from the audience. Every time the characters traversed, I felt nervous something was going to happen. This feeling continues till the ending, which is what I loved most about it- based on how you fall on the issue, you can come to a different conclusion over the final fates of the characters.
The problems with the film become more prominent in the third act. Certain character choices don’t make a lot of sense given previous events, and other character changes seem sudden and rushed. There’s also a weird suspension of disbelief that happens regarding some traversal issues that make the movie feel inconsistent in it’s rule-set, but also feels like it could thematically align with some earlier points. It’s not something I hold against the film now, but it is something that others may not like as much.
TLDR: Cube is an ambitious philosophical thriller through cube shaped hell. It’s fun, though provoking and invites the audience to think along with it until the ending credits play. Some of the character decisions and transformations feel out of place near the end of the movie, but they’re not even close enough to derail the fun here.
Final Rating: 9.2/10. If you enjoy philosophy this is the movie for you. You’ll be sitting there talking about the plot long after the movie ends. Fans of suspense should also give this a go.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!