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Cube

Director: Vincenzo Natali

Canada| 1997. Colour. Dolby stereo. 90 mins.


Vincenzo Natali’s spatially confined, intellectually expansive debut feature gives the impression of taking place inside an infinite labyrinth of identical cubes, but was in fact shot on one specially designed set, for just $50,000. Unlike much modern science fiction cinema, this micro-budget movie is driven by intriguing conceptual ideas and narrative tension rather than breathless action and gratuitous explosions. Six apparently unconnected individuals-an angry ex-cop, a timid maths student, an uptight female shrink, an unassuming office clerk, an autistic man and a jailbird with a reputation for escaping-wake up inside a three-dimensional maze of interlocking cubical chambers. None of them knows how they got there, what they have in common, or if they will get out alive. Some cubes are safe, but others are booby trapped. The only clue is a cryptic number stencilled near the sealed doors, one on each of the cell’s six faces.
Building suspense through a skilful modulation of narrative rhythm, tonal shifts and colour-coded lighting, Natali preserves the underlying enigma of who is really behind this deadly cubic conundrum. Is it some deranged scientist, a sinister government agency, or perhaps aliens from outer space? Natali and Andre Bijelic’s clever script focuses instead on the seldom altruistic behaviour of those trapped within the maze, revealing that their greatest enemy is not the lethal maze itself, but each other. The absorbing mathematical puzzles, understated allegory, nail-biting tension and strategic gore more than compensate for some distinctly variable acting. Like the cube itself, the film’s conceptual ideas are strong enough to survive the imperfections of what is contained within it.

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