It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt, it also gives rise to comfort. To be placed in completely unknown surroundings can be a fear greater than most can imagine. This was the basic premise of a classic little science fiction piece called Cube. There a group of strangers awaken in a room 14 feet cubed only to find each doorway leads to an identical room, some with deadly dangers. After Cube was Hyper Cube, where the rooms and dangers increased but the dramatic impact was completely lost. The original creative team was reassembled for Cube Zero. With this latest, perhaps last installment, the audience is taken back to the beginning, a time before the first Cube was used. Eric (Zachary Bennett) works for an older scientist, Dodd (David Huband), together it is their job to help monitor the progress of the experiment. Eric discovers that there was a mistake in the selection of who would be placed in the experiment. We now learn that those that wake up in the cube consented, albeit without being able to remember, to enter the cube. All of the human lab rats are condemned criminals, choosing a chance in the cube as an alternative to their own executions. It turns out that one of the criminals, Cassandra (Stephanie Moore), is a political prisoner, undeserving of her fate. Eric has a momentary attack of conscience and enters a service elevator into the cube where he hopes that his knowledge of the inner workings of the cube can be used to rescue Cassandra. Since this is a government project, hints are given that it is the good old USA, there is a ‘company’ man, Mr. Jax (Michael Riley) that is determined to foil the humane attempt of Eric and restore the experiment back on track. What ensues is entwining cat and mouse games, the prisoners are looking for a way out, Eric is searching for Cassandra and Mr. Jax is trying to stop Eric. A little convoluted and definitely a departure from the minimalist excellence of the original.
Since there seems to be nowhere to take the Cube story at this point it looks like this is going to be a trilogy. It’s just as well, since Cube Zero does answer some of the questions that the first two installments raised. The problem is part of the charm of the first film was the fact that the audience was left guessing. Sometimes it is better to leave the viewers with such questions; it adds to the mystery and opens the film up to many hours of deep, meaningful discussions over a few beers. It seems the people involved with the later two films forgot or just ignored what made the first film work, simplicity in design and execution. Personally, I like it when a film ends and is open to interpretation. This is usually far better than when the writer realizes that it’s the end of the movie and he overlooked an ending, forcing some less than satisfying conclusion.
In the second film gore ruled the day as the types of traps became bloodier and more frequent. Cube Zero, while overlooking what worked in the first film did embrace work didn’t in the second. There are flame throwers, torrents of corrosive acid and the old stand by wires that turn the human body into so many little bloody cubes. The problem here is we have seen this all before, better in the first film and redundantly in the second. This franchise suffers the same fate as many of the slasher film series like the Jason and Freddy flicks, there are only so many ways to slice and dice hapless victims before the audience yawns. In Cube the bloodshed was integral to the plot; yes the first flick had an actual plot. It set up an environment of imminent danger that was used to bind the characters. Now the violence is there because it has become part of the Cube films, it is just there because it is expected.
There is an attempt to make this film more socially and politically relevant. We now are privy to the fact that the ‘government’ is using this elaborate house of horrors for some nefarious set of experiments. Even with this addition there is nothing novel to be seen. We have all had our fill of evils of the government, how uncaring they are and how overly willing they are to strip people of the most fundamental human rights and dignity. In many ways finding out about the world immediately outside the cube is like Dorothy peeking behind the curtain to discover the Great Oz is nothing more than a regular man. We all suspected that the cube had operators but seeing them like this was a let down, it completely destroyed the scene of the unknown.
The cast all have fairly substantial resumes, mostly with roles called ‘gang leader’ or ‘admitting nurse’, no names, just descriptions. Many hold such actors with less regard than the big stars but it is their contributions that add realism to a film. As such the cast can act it is just unfortunate that there was little to really grab onto and work with here. Considering this Zachary Bennett does well in his part as the young, idealistic hero. He displays a better range of emotions than most of his co-stars. He makes Eric a conflicted and reluctant hero. On one hand he was partially responsible for the plight of the victims by merit of his participation, but he makes the moral distinction between using violent criminals and a political prisoner. Stephanie Moore is young, attractive and ready made to make the audience hope she survives. While we don’t really care about the abuses heaped upon the others Moore does let us become emotionally invested with her character to allow us to watch the film unfold.
Director/writer Ernie Barbarash is no stranger to less that well received sequels. Among his credits are the production of such films as American Psycho II and The First Nine and Half Weeks. Here he just made some decisions to pander to the blood thirsty instead of keeping the mystery that worked so well in the original. The pacing is a little off here. This is a result of cutting between inside and outside the cube.
While the technical specifications of the DVD are fairly good the film will only be of real interest to true, die hard ‘Cube Heads’. It is better than the second film, an easy task, but falls short of the first.