BIG surprise discoveries in the low budget world of Science Fiction Horror are becoming all too rare. Gone, it seems, are the days when the Sam Raimis and Reanimators would suddenly appear out of nowhere and cause major ripples in the independent arena. The industry doesn't work like that anymore; it's too sanitized and scared to take even the slightest risk without being certain there's a niche for it. Cult status is manufactured rather than happening by accident anymore.
All the more reason then for celebrating the arrival of director Vincenzo Natali and appreciating the clever value of his extraordinary Canadian-produced entry, Cube. Currently wowing the international Festival forums, canny Natali has done what few filmmakers seem incapable of these days: take a unique idea, milk its potential to the maximum and cut his budgetary cloth to fit its unnaturally high concept. Cube doesn't conform to the Fantasy norm in any other respect though because Natali looks beyond initial 'George Romero meets Hellraiser' appearances to find his own dark visual panache and twisted claustrophobia in a deceptively simple notion.
Six strangers wake up and find themselves in a 14 x 14 ft cube. When they try and get out via strategically placed air-locked hatches they realize they are trapped in a surreal prison, a seemingly endless maze of interlocking cubical chambers armed with lethal booby traps. How did they get there? Why have they been incarcerated? And who built the interconnecting Rubik rooms etched with advanced maths clues to a possible exit? With unanswered questions on every side, it emerges that each of them has a particular skill that could help their escape. To where they don't know. But as personality conflicts and power struggles keep arising, they slowly understand they must co-operate to work out the deadly cube's secrets or none of them has very long to live.
It's an irresistible premise, one that début director Natali continues teasing and tormenting the audience with right up until its deliciously nihilistic and grimly comic existential ending. How Natali uses his one set in such skilful ways, tricked out with exemplary use of well-placed computer graphics, and manages to hold the interest is a fantastic lesson in both economy and vibrant Twilight Zone Fantasy. For, just as you think Natali has begun to run out of imaginative ways to keep his enigma dazzling anew, he takes further sharp turns and smart twists to accelerate the mystifying momentum.
Cube is a small movie and all the better for it: tight, compressed and with a singularity of purpose. Genuinely creepy, with discernible strokes of esoteric Croneneberg (a distinct Natali inspiration), the acting is plainly adequate with the cast merely glaring, sweating and arguing between their inventive deaths. However, the unsettling opening demise is bound to become a classic as the cube's first victim is diced into small flesh squares by ingeniously placed razor wires.
And just as spectacular is Vincenzo Natali's explosion on the genre scene with Cube. It glimmers with an exceptionally bold freshness and timeless taste, and shows a sense of real directorial personality, control and vision. Cube is a film awash in brilliant ideas with Natali manipulating the puzzling horror and unsettling tension authoritatively with the uncontrolled spirit of a young filmmaker determined to make his mark. I've got news for him He has.
(Starburst rating: 9)
glimmers with an exceptional bold freshness and timeless taste"