Monday, April 18, 2011

REVIEW: Cube (1997) and Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away…there was an overused cliché from a film series that had much more to offer. And there was also the Cube series!

Bunch of pompous Canadians and Americans get stuck in a big series of cubes together and have to tolerate one another long enough to survive. That plot summary enough for you? Well we got two movies to review today, so let’s just get started.

Director: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: David Hewlett, Nicole deBoer

"This room is green. I want to go back to the blue room."

The first Cube was released in 1997 in some underground Canadian cave…it begins quite humbly with some bald dude getting chopped into bits by razor wire! Isn’t that just cheery?

Some people just can't stay composed.

After that, we meet our first character in Quentin, an angry black man who has perhaps, the widest eyes and most expressive eyebrows ever known to man. He would have been entered in the Guinness Book of World Records for this if he had not mysteriously disappeared before his interview…

"Whatchoo talkin about?!"

Other characters, including Worth, a cynical and depressive guy who has actually worked on parts of the Cube they're all stuck in, Leaven, a sarcastic high school chick who is great at math and serves as the most sensible and level headed character (yup, the high school kid is more sensible than the adults; doesn't say much for them maturity-wise), Rennes, an escape artist who has broken out of several prisons, Holloway, who is a paranoid conspiracy theorist who has not been laid in a long time and switches between raving lunatic and caring, motherly figure depending on who she's talking to, and Kazan, who is straight out of a Stephen King story. You know this character – the mentally handicapped guy who provides comic relief for most of the film, but actually has a special power that makes him actually the most capable of them all to survive. He also has a habit of being incredibly annoying when he wants to. Am I going to hell for saying that about a mentally retarded guy? Just let me know.

Speaking of survival, we get a lot of talk like that from Rennes, who tells everyone else to shut up so he can lead them out of there like he has done in so many prisons before. Two seconds later, he gets fried in one of the Cube’s many traps that the rooms seemingly randomly have in them:

Click HERE to see it, but be warned; it is graphic.

Yeah, that’s gross. But it does underline a very specific point about how this whole thing works. Basically some rooms have deadly traps in them that will instantly kill whoever sets foot in them. It’s a very interesting concept, and really makes for a lot of fun scenes in which the characters have to solve the puzzles, which are frankly the meat and potatoes of the movie, the foundations it is built upon. There are numbers in the crawl spaces between rooms that initially appear very cryptic. But luckily they have a mathematical genius among them to figure it out! What would they have done without her? My guess is, run around like chickens with their heads cut off.

And that ends up being Kazan's special power. Numbers. Just...numbers. Lots and lots of numbers! They sure lucked out in getting two math geniuses who got along so well and didn't end up totally destroying the group like Quentin. That's always a plus.

One other thing I really like about this is the settings, which are basically just identical rooms with a bunch of doors on the walls, floor and ceiling, but they're all colored differently, each with a very different, very heavy hue of red, blue, green, yellow or white. It adds a very alien, foreign atmosphere that serves to enhance the fear and paranoia the characters are experiencing, as there is no other setting like this one - they are completely isolated in a very abstract and strange looking environment. Chilling stuff.

So a lot of this movie is taken up by arguments between Holloway and Quentin, who are both under paranoid delusions, but different paranoid delusions, which actually makes the arguments a little bit funny. Lots of insults get flung around and everyone gets offended at least once…good, solid fun times, I say.

Taking a break from the job after a hard day's worth of arguing.

But the real meat of this movie is when the characters have to get around one of those traps. These scenes are just awesome, and really make this film stand out. Like there’s this one where they have to get across to the next room without making a sound, or else lots of sharp, pointy spikes will shoot out from everywhere and stab them. It's such a tense scene that you yourself will be afraid to say anything, as if your voice can trigger the trap, too. How did they create technology like that? I don’t know, but that’s the scariest thing about this! What other kinds of fucked up shit can the government create, and what can they do with it? Let your mind wander. Not everything you find will be very comforting.

A lot of this film, when it isn't taken up by arguing or by traps, is filled with figuring out clues to how the Cube works. And it's so much fun! I think the main reason for that is that we don't know any more than they do. To watch them working their brains until they're bent in half to figure it out is incredibly interesting, and even when you don't know the science they're talking about. The puzzles are put together well and there aren't any real holes that I can spot. This is a very well constructed movie in regards to the plot and mechanics.

So as the movie goes on, Quentin starts to act crazier and crazier until he just snaps and kills Holloway, dropping her way down the outside edge of the Cube to her death. He's not a very good actor and it comes off as a bit hammy, but this does underline the other big threat that the Cube poses - these people are in an alien environment and could be killed any second. It makes sense that they'd go a little nuts after a while, especially with the conflict of personalities and attitudes.

He makes sexual advances on Leaven (because he hasn't gone crazy enough to want Worth or Kazan sexually yet) and is subsequently ganged up on by everyone else, who squish his head in a door and make him look uncannily like a lost Looney Tune character. Leaven, Worth and Kazan all race to the end of the Cube and Worth decides, after ALL THAT TIME, that he doesn’t want to live and will just stay in the Cube. Seriously, guy? You’re giving up now? That’s like the most inopportune timing ever! It’s like, “Nah, it’s okay, man. I’m cool right here in this death trap where I will probably die a slow death of starvation. That’s alright with me.”

But it’s okay, because then Quentin pops out of nowhere like some Jack in the Box out of hell, and kills Leaven. He also stabs Worth, which I guess will make his tortured life a lot shorter - see? He does uphold the Christian values of loving his neighbor. He helps out anyone in need! Kazan manages to escape and walk into the light…a light which will be EXTERMINATED by the coming of Cube 2: Hypercube.

Director: Andrzej Sekula
Starring: Kari Matchett, Geraint Wyn Davies

"I haven't had this much fun since my 13th birthday!"
-Mrs. Paley

And I mean exterminated, because this movie is just convoluted as hell. It starts off with how I’m pretty sure the casting agency got the actors for this movie – by knocking them unconscious and wrapping them in plastic bags for shipping to a private location. Some chick wakes up on a table inside the Cube and jumps into a door…and then the credits begin. The credits are weird in that they’re…pretty much just the blueprints for the set design with music and graphics put over them. Weird ass choice, movie; weird ass choice.


Then we get our ensemble of characters waking up in the new Cube, which was apparently specifically designed to blind everyone who looks at it. I mean, what the hell, movie? Look at all that white! I’d need sunblock to even walk around in there! Anyway, the first guy we’re introduced to is a beat up looking colonel. I can only imagine that this is not the first time he has woken up in a strange place recently…he doesn’t seem all that surprised. The scene quickly ends and we are then introduced to MORE CHARACTERS!

I know that seems like an exaggerated response to the simple act of just introducing the movie’s characters, but seriously, there are a lot of them. It’s like a fucking Cube family reunion or something; they just threw in every character they could think of, no rhyme or reason at all! I guess the most noteworthy ones are Kate, who is a bland blonde lady who this movie thinks we should cheer for, Simon, an ugly guy who has a knife – that’s real safe – and Sasha, a little blind girl who needs a lot of help. There’s also this computer whiz kid, a generic hot chick in a sexy red dress, a geeky family man named Jerry and this crazy old lady named Mrs. Paley.

Mrs. Paley is quite a handful, isn’t she? She’s so senile that she thinks she’s in some kind of retirement spa or something. Yeah. Because the Cube looks SOOOOOOOO much like a retirement spa, right?! I know she’s senile and everything, but seriously, how can you NOT notice that you’ve been kidnapped and put into something that nobody on Earth has ever seen before? I think that would be at least a little suspicious! Maybe it’s just because I’ve never been old or senile yet, but my thought is, you would be at least a little bit fucking aware of where you were, in this case!

They all wander around like fucking morons for a little while and come across that general guy from the beginning. Oh, and did I mention that the camera loves to do EXTREMELY WEIRD SHIT all the time? Take a look at some of this and tell me I'm not wrong:

GAH! That's too close! Can someone get a restraining order on this cameraman?
What is this, a magazine cover? Get fucking real.
Yeah, try turning the camera the right way, jackass. Maybe you shouldn't drink five bottles of Tequila before coming to work next time! But then again with this movie I can see why you would...

After all that bullshit is over, the characters decide to sit down and finally talk about who they are. Because…that shouldn’t have been the first thing they did, or anything, right? Kate starts to consider the possibility that they have been kidnapped. What, so that wasn’t their first idea for what happened? Did she just think it was a set up for a surprise birthday party? How stupid is this woman?

So some of the rooms in this new Cube are zero-gravity, which means they have to lower themselves in on their jackets tied together. Simon and Jerry start to take off their clothes and I think I’m really starting to get uncomfortable with this movie’s implications. I mean, look at them:


What, is having gay sex part of the plan now? Eugh. Keep that to yourselves, guys. I mean, I'm all for personal freedom and everything, but some things I just don't need to see in a Cube movie!

So, yeah, Jerry reveals some plot devices about how the Cube is actually something called a tessaract, which has more than three dimensions and can bend space and time, or something. I don’t know. This is all very interesting and everything, but in the same movie that has scenes like this in it…

…I can’t exactly get involved as much as I’d like.

Jerry gets killed, and then Simon starts to suspect Mrs. Paley of all people of being a spy. What, the senile old lady? Why? Could you have possibly picked a more random, unlikely candidate to be suspicious of? She probably can’t even tell her shoe from a goddamned toaster; what makes you think she’s capable of being a spy? It's like "Hey, you, person who is removed from reality and must be evil! TIE HER UP AND GAG HER, WE HAVE A SUSPECT HERE!" Talk about illogical. Maybe he's the one who's senile. Anyway, he kills her and then everyone else runs away from him in fear…gee, JUST LIKE THE FIRST ONE. I’m so glad this movie is setting itself apart so well!

So the generic hot chick and that kid that looks like Joseph Gordon Levitt if he were a lot lamer end up in a room by themselves. After some more special effect jerking off where time speeds up and slows down, doing funny things to their voices, they start to talk about themselves. The generic chick reveals she is an attorney for the company that built the Cube. So…what the fuck is she in there for again? Do they always treat the people trying to help them like this? Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Do you even have an answer, movie? No? I thought so. The two of them start to have sex and…okay, seriously, I think this is how the conversation went during filming:

DIRECTOR: (in a hushed whisper) What do you mean the writer won’t write any more of the script?...uh huh….okay…what do you MEAN he’s killed himself?

GENERIC HOT CHICK: What’s going on over there?

DIRECTOR: Hold on a sec, honey…(in a hushed whisper again, to someone behind the camera) What should we do? You say you’re horny and haven’t gotten laid in the last three weeks? Okay, fine, we’ll do a sex scene.

PRODUCER: Wait! That’s not nearly confusing enough for this movie! Let’s have the two of them have sex while also aging way too fast! And the cameraman can spin the camera around like he’s having a seizure…it’ll be awesome. *snorts more coke*

DIRECTOR: That’s a great idea! *smokes more marijuana*

Yeah, it’s stupid and the only sex scene I’ve ever seen that was worse was in Queen of the Damned. This movie is only slightly better than Queen of the Damned in terms of sex scenes!

Then it’s revealed that Sasha, the little blind girl, is actually the master hacker who created the original idea for the new Cube. Yeah, the helpless scared blind girl is actually an expert computer hacker that even the government wants dead. That’s plausible, right? Right? I’ll humor the director and say yes, but even in that twisted aberration of reality, how stupid is it when Kate acts like it was obvious all along? “Sasha is a nickname for Alexandra,” she says, but not that I've ever heard. Were they just grasping for even the tiniest little thread to connect together? I think they were.

Sasha gets killed by Simon, who then chases Kate throughout the Cube as reality collapses around them. What the movie is really trying to say is, they ran out of ideas, so they just told the special effects guy to improvise some random shit while Kate and Simon ran around in circles on screen.

Oh GOD, a giant ball of yarn! RUN AWAY!

I mean honestly. What the hell are half of these images? I know they had little budget to work with, but these are just ridiculous! You can’t tell me they couldn’t have tried harder! It gets so bad that eventually there's nothing real on the screen at all. It's like they just knew how little substance they actually had, and so they just threw up their hands and told the special effects guy - who I think was in a Hitler-esque control over most of this movie by this point - to do whatever he wanted, and that they were completely at his mercy. No logic, no reason, just insanity. Pure, undiluted insanity.

Alright, so the movie basically ends with Kate jumping down this hole as the entire Cube folds in on itself and waking up in this government room where it’s…revealed that she had a mission this whole time? She gives them this little thing she took off of Sasha’s neck, presumably some kind of info about the Cube, but how does this make any sense? There was never any indication that she was working for the people who made the Cube! When were we ever given any clues to that? A plot twist doesn’t work if it just comes out of nowhere with no sense or logic with the rest of the film! How incompetent are you ass monkeys?

God, so she gets shot by the government agents from behind, and I almost wish I was in her place at this point. What a trainwreck, what an utter trainwreck.

Okay, so those are the two Cube movies. The first one is a lot of fun, I have to admit. The low budget DIY ethic is endearing, the premise is creative, the sets are cool and the traps are exciting. It’s a great flick to turn on and just have a blast with. This is a movie about paranoia and about 'keeping ones' head down,' which the characters talk about at several points. Nobody wants to see the biggest picture. That's the movie's main message. Because really, why would you want to? It would only scare you. Cube's main point of effectiveness is that it does not show the viewer anything outside of the Cube. You don't need to see it. You just need to focus on what you're actually watching on screen. What's scary is what you don't see, and in that regard, Cube does a pretty excellent job at creating suspense and tension.

The second one…well, it’s got some good ideas. I really think they had some creative ideas working here and that this could potentially have been a good film. It's just that it's also saddled with so many horrible directing choices, nonsensical plot twists, annoying characters and pretty much every other possible thing you can do to make a movie suck that it's just frustrating beyond belief.

So, yeah. One good, one bad…I think it’s a decent tradeoff. Check both movies out if you’re curious. They’re at least worth one viewing each. And yes, I know there was a third one, but it was pretty much the same thing as the original for most of its duration and there wouldn't be a whole lot to say about it. It isn't bad. But these two are the more important installments in the series, especially if you've never seen one before.

Images copyright of whoever originally owned them, blah, blah, blah. But I did the pictures for the review of the second one!