Cube Zero

Reviewed By Todd LaPlace
Posted 07/03/05 00:15:03

"Part three of a Canadian horror series about math? Sign me up!"
3 stars (Just Average)

A partially-barefoot man climbs down an odd metallic ladder built into a wall. He’s stuck in a cold, red room with more ladders in the other walls, each leading to a door in the center. There is a similar door in the center of the ceiling, as well as one on the floor. The nameless man never gets a chance to reach those doors though, as sprinklers start to coat him with a mysterious liquid. He joyously licks his fingers as he repeatedly mutters “water” over and over again. Then his face melts off.

I once heard a rumor that the makers of the Canadian cult hit “Cube” were planning on continuously releasing sequels that added additional dimensions to the mysterious death trap. The original had three dimensions, and the disappointing first sequel, “Cube 2: Hypercube,” added the fourth dimension — time — which seemed to support the rumor. So when I found out a third film had been released, I was pretty sure I wanted to get sliced into little squares than sit through a lame, confusing movie about the unstoppable killing machine that is the fifth dimension.

Thank you, Ernie Barbarash, for not validating those rumors. As anyone who took AP calculus can tell you, math is scarier than any chainsaw-wielding cannibal, but movies about theoretical physics are — Surprise! — too confusing to be scary. So thank you, Mr Barbarash, for returning our favorite Canadian geometrical experiment to the simplicity of pure claustrophobic, death-trap terror.

In “Cube Zero,” the prequel to the lovable cult original, another group of total strangers is dumped in the title torture chamber, but instead of merely following them, the story tends to focus on Wynn (Zachary Bennett) and Dodd (David Huband), two of the technicians hired to monitor the cube and its inhabitants. The work stations in the lost central room are covered in odd knick-knacks, old family photos and name plates (last names only), and the room is overflowing with filing cabinets containing the info for every person thrown into the cube (enough to ensure a missing persons epidemic, which makes you wonder why more people haven’t caught on by the time the hypercube is constructed). While the previous two films have featured at least one captive that had a hand in building the cube, the prequel tries to answer a lot of the “Who is Big Brother?” kind of questions by actually showing the people responsible for documenting each individual death.

The whole conspiracy finally gets questioned when Wynn is assigned the task of erasing the memories of Cassandra (Stephanie Moore), a woman seemingly randomly plucked out of a lake-side forest. Up to this point, Wynn and Dodd had been working under the assumption the inhabitants had volunteered for the project when faced with the death-penalty for their violent crimes. Trying to be the perfect little drone, Dodd doesn’t ask questions about the people he’s watching die, but Wynn is a little more suspicious when Cassandra’s file is missing the usual consent form. It seems that she’s in there “by mistake.” Instead of exposing more about the cube, though, this twist fuels more questions about the nature and legitimacy of the experiment, especially when Cassandra is recognized as a vocal member of a resistance group.

The biggest drawback to this new approach to the old story is the math mystery that fueled much of the first (and confused much of the second) is discarded in favor of exposing pieces of the conspiracy. The cube’s rooms are designed much like the originals (the sole difference being the use of letters instead of numbers), so there’s not the same thought given by Cassandra (and another miscellaneous collection of follow captives) as to how to move along the rooms to avoid traps. Instead, Wynn voluntarily jumps into the cube to explain how the coordinates work to his new crush.

But the idiocy of one character notwithstanding, the film is actually very smart and surprisingly fresh, especially for a film that is essentially rehashing the original film. Allusions are made to the true identity of the cube’s original creators — religion seems to play a major role — but there are only enough to wet our appetites for further questioning and post-screening arguments on movie message boards. It seems like Barbarash (who gets his second credit for the screenplay) may have been a fan of fellow late-’90s math-based indie gem “Pi,” because the cube no longer seems to merely be about everyone’s least favorite school subject. “Pi” suggested the math was actually the basis for a higher religion, and it seems like “Cube Zero” might be smartly following down the same path.

For those uninterested in these deeper questions, the film is also filled with enough decapitated limbs and gruesome flesh-eating viruses to satisfy the horror crowd. While the film lacks the shock factor of the first, Barbarash still manages to be more creative in his death scenes than Jason, Michael Myers and Leatherface combined. Fans of the series will be happy to note that these deaths still seem to be without an understandable purpose. If you’re looking for “Cube Zero” to answer all of the questions lingering after the first two films, you’re going to be out of luck. Instead, the film exposes just enough of a different aspect of the cube experience to make this a true rarity — a direct-to-video, part three prequel that is nearly as entertaining as the original.

“Cube” was an incredibly original, underappreciated film that amazingly added math to the horror genre. If you liked “Cube,” you’ll probably like “Cube Zero.” The prequel also creatively uses math in the horror genre, but also creatively throws theology into the mix too. If you liked “Cube 2: Hypercube,” however, you won’t like “Cube Zero” because you don’t like good movies.

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