Cube Zero (2004) — An unsatisfying prequel

“I’m through pushing buttons.”

Justin’s rating: 4 8 15 16 23 42

Justin’s review: Living with someone who is not, urm, shall we say, inured to copious amounts of gore and blood in movies can have its interesting moments. Particularly if the other party (me) has seen enough carnage on screen to last for two full World Wars, and is an insufferable special effects snob to boot. An example of this Odd Couple lifestyle happened when I recently watched Cube Zero on the couch while my wife was behind me “working” on the computer (“playing video games” is what I like to call that activity in truth). Now, the Cube series is lightly famous for its creative death scene in the teaser, but I really wasn’t thinking about how this might impact my working wife, watching out of the corner of her eye. I wasn’t thinking about it, that is, until Mr. Victim’s skin started to bubble from a chemical that made his skin slough off, and my dearest began to make retching sounds:

VICTIM: ARGGHHHHHHH! [parts of the skin on his hands come off]

MY WIFE: Ewww! Justin! What! This is disgusting!

ME: Babe, it’s not THAT gross…

VICTIM: URGHARRRRRRR! [his face begins melting like that Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark]

MY WIFE: Why are we watching this? JUSTIN! This is… ACK! HIS INTERNAL SKELETAL SYSTEM!

ME: You can tell that’s not even a real hand… and that’s a fake blood packet clearly visible in his pocket…

VICTIM: [disintegrates into a bloody stew]

MY WIFE: [throws several heavy objects my way, as if I personally killed Mr. Victim] We’re watching five romance movies for this, buster!

ME: NOOOOOOOOO!

Ah, the couch was comfy-cozy that night.

That really had nothing to do with the movie, other than to buy me some time to think of a witty analysis of the events that took place between the “Play” button and the “Stop” button on my DVD player. I think it worked.

While I’m not really against sequels — I like them, in a masochistic sense, and they seem to tick off a lot of people, which fills me with glee — two sequels to the bare-bones scifi/horror Cube does seem somewhat excessive. The first movie worked (not perfectly, mind you) by having a clever premise shrouded in a mystery that plucked at your curiosity. Several strangers awake to find themselves in a series of cubes, all linked together by doorways in all directions, and several of the cubes containing death traps. How’d they get there? What was the purpose of them being there? What was the Cube, exactly? How would they escape, if at all? The mystery filled in a lot of imaginative gaps that a limited budget left behind.

However, filmmakers felt that the mystery needed to be de-mystified, and so we received on our laps — plopped there like a half-eaten rabbit your dog brought home to you in a misguided attempt at pleasing his master — the sequels Hypercube and Cube Zero. Hypercube… geez, no one knows what to make of that movie. It didn’t make sense, it invested heavily in dumb, and about six people actually watched through the whole thing. Cube Zero, however, took a step backwards to become a prequel of sorts, and both succeeds and fails in the de-mystification process.

This proto-Cube looks more like a rough-hewn submarine than the slicker versions that would come later, but it is no less deadly. As before, strangers awake to find themselves trapped and without much of their previous memories. Unlike before, however, half of the movie leaps out of the Cube and into the control room, where two minimum wage employees handle the daily tasks of Cube life while dutifully following orders from their unseen masters. Soon, we realize that they’re just as much prisoners as the actual Cube-ites, and both parties start to work on figuring out what’s going on, who’s in control, and — above all else — how to find the exit and escape.

It sounds cool. Really. Nifty twist on the old idea. And it both works and doesn’t. The acting, while better than the other Cube movies (which really isn’t saying much), is grating and characters extremely simplistic. What’s worse is that for every one answer this movie sort of gives for previous mysteries, it entangles itself up in even more, which moots the purpose of this film. Or at least boils it down into a less-clever thriller where people fight to stay alive and humanity is revealed at its best, worst and most pimply.

My gut check on this film is that it was entertaining enough to watch, and definitely a must-see if you’re a fan of the first. But three’s a crowd, and if you don’t want to rush to the end of your life faster than normal, you might just stick with the first movie and spend the saved hours of watching the sequels for something more important, like flying a kite or saying No to drugs.

Didja notice?

  • Flesh-melting water — now from glacial springs!
  • Chessman! He played chess with the Amazing RANDO!
  • The fish in the coffeepot
  • Where are the other two guys who work here?
  • Lunch pills… mmm…
  • The early version of the wire-cube trap
  • The Exit… PROCEDURE! Spooky!
  • In the monitor room at the beginning of the movie, there is a blurred shot of a controller for an Atari 2600 as the CD of Ryjkin’s demise is being collected.

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