25 years ago, on September 9, 1997, Cube premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie centers on a small group of strangers who wake up trapped in a giant cube…connected to other cubes…making up one gigantic cube. Adding to the tension is that some of the cubes are rigged with traps and only a mathematical formula derived from the room numbers can reveal which rooms are and aren’t safe. Sadism, mystery, claustrophobia, and paranoia combine, creating a surprisingly tense, scary, and smart movie.
The movie, known primarily to hardcore genre fans, is a masterwork of storytelling, creating the idea of a giant underground prison using only two small sets that were reused and repurposed over and over again throughout filming. The true terror of Cube comes from its idea – being trapped, perhaps senselessly, and feeling the imminence of death. It’s a film that holds up a quarter of a century after its release, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
The film’s central mystery is simple yet compelling: why does the cube exist? At one point, one of the characters, David Worth, reveals to the group that he was actually contracted to build the cube’s outer shell, though he has no idea how he ended up trapped inside. Naturally, the group wants to know what the cube is and why it exists. Worth gives an utterly underwhelming response, saying, “There is no conspiracy. No one is in charge. It’s a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan…there is no point, that’s the point.”
That answer, however, doesn’t seem to add up with the rest of the film. The prisoners, for example, seem too-perfectly hand chosen to be mere coincidence. There’s Holloway, the doctor; Kazan, an autistic man with savant syndrome who (how convenient) is great at math; Worth, the designer of the Cube’s shell; Wren, a notorious escape artist; Quentin McNeil, a police officer; and Joan Leaven, a mathematics student.
Now, if you’re going to be stuck inside a giant booby trap-filled cube, desperately trying to survive and escape…this group seems a bit *too* perfect to be random. At one point, Holloway also reveals that she has knowledge of McNeil and his abusive past, further alluding to the fact that this group was hand-chosen.
The dichotomy of the movie both telling viewers it’s all pointless, while also very clearly showing that it’s all connected, creates a strange vibe where viewers can’t tell if they’re simply too stupid to understand the brilliance of Cube’s message, or if the filmmakers were just too stupid to realize their own contradictions. In all honesty, though, this endless questioning helps keep the movie fun and interesting.
Produced on a budget of just $365,000 CAD, Cube went on to gross just short of $9 million at the global box office, becoming a runaway indie success that also had a profitable lifespan in the rental and home video markets. There are also many who say the film is a precursor (at least spiritually) to Saw. A group of supposed strangers wake up in a giant, gritty torture device, and are given a strange and subversive way to escape. Sound familiar?
In fact, there’s even a striking similarity between Cube and Saw II. In Cube, one of the characters, Quentin McNeil, becomes unhinged from the stress, fear, and isolation of the cube. He begins turning on the others, attempting to gain control. He’s willing to hurt others, leave people behind, and he even kills Holloway after discovering she knows about his dark past. To Quentin, if someone couldn’t be used to escape, they were worthless and better off dead.
For anyone who has seen Saw II, this probably sounds oddly similar to the character of Xavier, who decides to violently turn against the others, hoping to get the numbers tattooed on their necks in order to escape all by himself.
While there’s no concrete proof of a connection between the two franchises, their similarities can’t be ignored. James Wan, Saw’s director, has never come out and said Cube was an inspiration, but it’s highly probable he’s seen the movie because of its importance and popularity within the horror and sci-fi fandoms.
In fact, throughout the years, Cube has spawned both a sequel and a prequel. In 2002, Cube 2: Hypercube was released. Whereas the ‘97 film was gritty, grounded, and grungy-looking, Hypercube was bright, white, and leaned more heavily into the sci-fi genre, revealing that this new cube is actually a tesseract with time and space operating differently in each room. Reviews were not as good as the first, with many commenting that the sequel came off feeling low-budget, although it did have some shining moments with the more outlandish room traps.
In 2004, Cube Zero revealed what happened before the events of the first movie, and instead of taking place solely inside the cube, it alternated between the captives inside and the men in the control room spying on their every move.
Once again, the film received mixed reviews, with critics saying it muddled the mystery of the original by trying (perhaps too hard) to explain the purpose of the cube. Religion, politics, and wealthy sadists are referenced as reasons, and instead of better explaining the cube, it just raises more questions, further confusing audiences and making the cube even more mysterious.
And yet, that does seem to be what Cube is about. It’s about not knowing what’s right and wrong, what’s real and what isn’t, and most importantly, it’s about preying upon audiences’ sense of paranoia and fear, leaving them to ask…what’s the purpose? What’s the point of all this pain and suffering? And most importantly, is there a point?
The franchise is also far from dead. In 2021 a Japanese remake was released, and earlier this year, it was reported by Bloody Disgusting that Lionsgate is currently looking through pitch ideas for an American reboot as well. It will be interesting to see what kind of story the new movie will tell and whether it will lean more into horror or sci-fi, realism or absurdism, and if it might (finally) give us a reason as to why the cube exists.