When seven complete strangers awaken in a starkly lit square room, they have nothing but questions and angry demands. When they discover that their 'cell' is linked to others by doorways and that there seem to be no guards, their curiosity takes over. But when they begin to die gruesome deaths one-by-one at the pointy end of some fiendish traps the over-riding emotion becomes fear.
In many ways, Cube epitomises the cult movie. It was something of a surprise underground hit attracting quite a following, and two lousy sequels: Cube 2: Hypercube and the 'fashionably' monickered Cube 0 (Zero).
The opening sequence alone is memorable enough to generate word-of-mouth recommendation from the totally-random-Friday-night-video rental-crowd (the same people who keep Pauly Shore in work), and was copied most recently in Resident Evil - it features a grid-of-lasers trap and the diced remains of it's victim pausing for a moment as if in disbelief, before tumbling to the floor in a gory heap.
The plot is quite ingenious and fairly original, although much of it owes a good deal to Hitchcock's Lifeboat in the way it throws together an assortment of strangers in a desperate bid for survival, inevitably leading to in-fighting and accusations. Lifeboat itself has been remade twice as a sci-fi flick - both a feature called Lifepod, and a TV mini of the same name directed by Ron Silver.
Those copycat elements aside, the Cube itself is very clever. Each room is linked to six others, with a door on each side of each room. Some open, some don't, and there appears to be some pattern related to the mysterious numbers scored into the crawl-spaces between cubes. The whole structure itself remaps at a preset interval. Worse still, rooms can be trapped with anything from razor sharp blades to jets of acid.
Inevitably, some of the characters are more than they first appear, and it transpires that there may be a way out of all this if they can just....work....together. Ignoring the plot banalities, the concept of a Cube that reforms itself according to some arcane algorithm, and which might turn you into minced meat if you aren't quick enough, is a sound one for a sci-fi movie. However, the film is deeply flawed. The makers cannot resist subscribing to the late nineties fashion for 'government conspiracy', and the film owes more than a nod to the likes of The X-Files. This kind of obvious cop-out of blaming 'the government' or some shady secret agency is the films weakest element, a fact the makers clearly missed - both sequels rely in increasingly heavy doses on this same plot device.
Yet for added cult value, Cube has a surprise ending which creates many more questions than it answers. What is the Cube for? Who really built it? Why was that particular combination of people assembled and how did they get there? And where in the world is the Cube? Pure nerd-food if ever there was.
In spite of it's hefty collection of 'cons', Cube is a film which echoes around in your imagination some time after viewing. It's a good thing, in many ways, that the plot is so inventive because the script and acting are both very weak and clumsy. Then again, for a low budget Canadian sci-fi film by a first-time director with a cast of nigh-unknowns, what were you expecting?