FANGO Flashback: “CUBE”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley No Comment
Though his work is often underrated by the horror community at large, there’s few horror filmmakers this writer would like to see more from than Vincenzo Natali. An indie auteur who always provides a subversive, thought-provoking edge to his output, Natali has recently parlayed his efforts into the world of television, leaving his stamp on shows such as HANNIBAL, ORPHAN BLACK, HEMLOCK GROVE, DARKNET and more. But even with all the work Vincenzo has done as of late, there’s always a spot in this writer’s heart for his directorial debut, CUBE.
A microbudget horror/sci-fi hybrid, CUBE is the kind of movie that indie filmmakers dream of making, complete with a high concept, palpable tension and a sharp script that’s both engaging and inexpensive. At it’s core, CUBE is a movie about a group of people trapped inside a deadly puzzle, struggling to make their way from room to room without falling prey to mechanized traps. But as their numbers thin and desperation sets in, the group learns that there might be a purpose to each of them being in the titular trap. In a sense, it’s almost like the sci-fi equivalent to LORD OF THE FLIES, but much more cerebral and gory in nature.
In a practical sense, CUBE is a rather astounding feat; in hindsight, it’s clear that the film essentially had one set that could be retrofitted and recolored to fit the premise. But where Natali really makes that approach count is his use of depth, whether it be via Hitchcockian close-ups, layered reveals or simply advantageous camera set-ups. And in that regards, having one set with blown-out colors eliminates the need for time-prohibitive lighting set-ups, allowing Natali and crew to focus on the actors and pulling off more ambitious camerawork. Besides, the CUBE itself is rather effectively designed in its own right, capturing the disorienting atmosphere that one would want for a life-or-death puzzle while feeling authentically mechanical and terrifying.
But in hindsight, CUBE set the groundwork for Natali’s future work as a filmmaker, offering a glimpse of the themes and methods that the director would incorporate into his cinematic voice. Themes of desolation, repetition and loneliness are all on display (which can be seen in NOTHING, HAUNTER, SPLICE and even Natali’s episodes of HANNIBAL) as well as Natali’s penchant for unwinding information slowly and methodically. Likewise, while CUBE can get gruesome when it needs to be, Natali also spaces out the violence and usually makes the bloodier moments quick and visceral.
CUBE also features some fine acting as well, many of whom take on complex monologues with impressive results. Nicole de Boer, David Hewlett and Maurice Dean Wint are all stellar as the “leads” of the film, with de Boer likely getting the most complex character while Hewlett garners the most sympathy and Wint provides one of the more unsettling character transitions. Nicky Guadagni, Wayne Robson and Andrew Miller are also great in the film, with Guadagni handling some intense conspiracy theory dialogue, while Robson’s gruffness and Miller’s autistic savant performance offer some excellent simplicity to parallel the more wound-up characters. And the film also has the benefit of a Julian Richings cameo, providing the actor (who has since become a staple of Canadian horror) with a short but shocking role that few will forget.
Overall, CUBE is definitely an indie genre gem that ages better and better over time, largely thanks to the efforts of Natali as well as his fantastic cast and crew. It’s a thinking man’s sci-fi horror flick but simple and creepy enough to keep the casual horror audience gripped throughout. And CUBE also can serve as a brilliant tutorial for low-budget filmmakers everywhere, as it’s a perfect example of exactly how much blind ambition and a high concept can accomplish with limited resources.