Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: #3: Cube (1997)

Ponty never ceases to surprise me with his thoughtful picks, and I was not expecting a relatively obscure sci-fi horror thriller in his top three.  After reading the review, though, it makes sense—and it really makes me want to see this flick.

Sci-fi and horror tend to be the genres that, when done well, explore stories and concepts that stick in one’s mind for weeks, months, and years after viewing.  Cramming six volatile personalities into a mysterious death cube sounds a bit hokey, but the opportunity to explore the frailty and the triumph of the human condition makes it an exquisite, albeit devilish, setup.

How would we behave and react in bizarre, lethal situations?  Would we keep our cool?  Or—more likely—would be panic, virtually guaranteeing our destruction?  Ponty’s #3 pick dives into these uncomfortable questions.

With that, here is Ponty’s review of 1997’s Cube:

Of all the films I’ve watched in my life, and I’ve seen a lot, the ones that tend to sit with me, that are most memorable are those that make me feel something. Where you forget that there are cameras or that the characters you are seeing are actors playing a role, where you think and feel as they do, where their emotions become yours. Top of my list for total immersion tend to be horrors, mysteries and thrillers. I love to feel scared, intimidated, claustrophobic, helpless. Though my number 3 choice didn’t have me checking under my bed or looking over my shoulder, expecting to see something crawling into view, it left me gripped from start to finish, completely immersed in an environment which is as mysterious as it is punishing.

Cube (1997), a low budget Canadian film, sees six strangers trapped in a maze of deadly rooms which they must negotiate together to find an exit.

Adam Robitel’s excellent Escape Room movies, the Saw movies, they would never have been made if not for this film. Cube was the original, the gold standard for psychological science fiction, certainly in this medium.

Each of the six strangers has a skill. One is a doctor, another a cop. One helped design his prison though he had no idea at the time what he was designing and what it was for. One is a prisoner with a high escape rate and another is a mathematics geek. The last is an autistic man, with his own skill of working out impossibly high calculations in a second. The problem is he is unpredictable. Once they get past their fear, they attempt to work together to get through the rooms but even when they think they have found a solution, the maze throws out deadly surprises.

As they slowly make their journey through the rooms, you find out more about them. Their lives, their fears, and they are exploited, sometimes by the Cube but mostly by each other. Can these people work together to survive? As with so many environments where people are put together under harsh conditions for a certain period of time, tensions are exposed and individual desires make this claustrophobic hell even more fraught.

Worth (David Hewlett) is apathetic which annoys the hell out of Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), the cop with his own troubles and hang-ups. Holloway (Nicky Guadagni), a doctor, struggles to follow her own survival advice, the strain of her surroundings becoming more evident with each passing moment. Leaven (Nicole De Boer), once she gets over her initial shock, is comforted by her mathematic skills, which act as a friend of sorts as she attempts to use logic to escape and Kazan is looked after by the group – Quentin aside, who thinks him a waste of space. Rennes (Wayne Robson), isn’t overly bothered whether he makes it out with everyone else or alone. Each of them are very different people but must find some common ground to escape. The question, and you wonder all throughout their journey, is whether they can.

Why do I rate this film so highly, you may ask? Well, this film captured my imagination many years ago and has stuck with me over the years. It’s still as brilliant now as it was then. You can hear sounds from outside their prison but you have no idea where the outside is. As Leaven points out, when she’s trying to calculate the size of the thing, ’26 rooms high, 26 rooms across…’ They could be deep within it, they could be on the edge, they could, in fact, be in the room where the exit door is but you never know. The frustration is palpable and you have to give them credit for not losing it altogether and leaping thoughtlessly into one of the Cube’s death traps.

I like the small cast. The film gives you just enough information about each character while leaving room for doubt. You can feel their fear and frustrations. After all, every room, bar the colour, looks exactly the same. The same doors on each side, top and bottom. The same weird markings on the walls. Is it a trap or is it safe? Even if one room is safe, the next could be a trap. They could potentially be going around in circles, something which is pointed out on one occasion, and though they find and solve clues to progress, the rules change, plunging our helpless group into further despair. Will they all make it out alive? You’ll have to find that out for yourselves.

If you do watch this film, my advice to you is don’t look for the sequel. It’s chalk and cheese, the first film superb, its follow up absolute dross. Stick with the original and you won’t be disappointed.


10 thoughts on “Monday Morning Movie Review: Ponty’s Top Ten Best Films: #3: Cube (1997)

  1. Thanks Tyler. 🙂

    Since we started these lists, I’ve been sharing them on TCW. I know a few are coming over to read but they’re not appearing under the line. I’m still working on them regarding that. WordPress/Gravatar accounts don’t take long to set up and it’d be fun to have a few more thoughts under the line.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’ve been thinking about how WordPress is a double-edged sword re: comments. On the one hand, it makes it very easy for other WordPress users to comment; on the other hand, you get mostly fellow bloggers commenting, and it creates an extra hoop for non-bloggers to jump over in order to join in the conversation. In my experience, even one hoop is often one hoop too many.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Geez louise! What a review! Just when I think I’ve read your best, dang if you don’t come out with an even better one. You should be sitting in a fancy office somewhere, earning a five – six digit income writing reviews. Hat’s off, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cheers Audre. 🙂

      If you haven’t watched this film, you should be able to find it, if not on DVD, then definitely on a streaming service. It’s a very immersive film, well acted and directed, the Cube itself almost being a 7th character in the film.

      And as I said, it was the first, the film that influenced many others. I actually watched this in the late 90s, when it came to video (remember those?) and it’s lost none of its charm.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I shared the article this morning with my son-in-law, who is also a horror movie buff. It’s a work day for him, of course, but I’ll let you know if I hear back from him.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I seem to remember the trailer for this film when it came out (I was in the seventh grade, so I wasn’t going to see it, haha). I don’t think I’ve ever managed to see it. I will add it to my list of films to see.

        As we’re getting to our #2 and #1 picks, I am increasingly thankful for the honorable mention post. I am realizing I forgot about a TON of great films: _Ghostbusters_, _Blade Runner_, etc. I’m working on my #2 and know what my #1 will be, but I’m regretting putting _Krull_ on the list, haha. D’oh!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. If he’s seen it, I imagine he’ll love it, if that is a genre he likes.

    In fact, I also imagine he enjoyed Stranger Things which is predominantly sci-fi horror. If he’s a gamer too, he’ll also recognise the Silent Hill references, which are plenty in Stranger Things.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My sil said he and my daughter loved Cube – they also like the second one but nixed the third (Cube cubed??? lol). He has it on Plex so I may check it out.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The second was awful. The people they put in there were the types you’d see in some crappy low budget horror sequel; completely pointless to the story or their journey. The guy who wrote and directed the first, Vincenzo Natali, had nothing to do with the second. That’s a good thing. Cube ended well and it didn’t need a sequel but, you know, money and all that.

        Liked by 1 person

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