Cube Zero (2004)

*. I mentioned in my notes on Cube that it was all the better for not explaining who or what was behind the structure of the Cube itself. Cube Zero makes what amounts to a really flimsy gesture in that direction and ends up failing badly.
*. There are two points I want to begin with. In the first place, despite being largely set outside the Cube, among its operators, this movie really does nothing to explain what the point of the Cube is. Some kind of political prison, I guess. But also a kind of social psychology experiment. Nor is it made clear who is running it. I think it’s a joint effort put together by some sinister corporation and the government, but the people upstairs are never clearly identified.
*. Second: This movie is widely identified as a prequel to the first Cube. It might be, but there is no compelling reason for thinking so. At the end of the film Wynn is not Kazan, the autistic savant from Cube. He is just someone who has suffered the same fate. This is pointed out by writer-director Ernie Barbarash in his DVD commentary, but I don’t see why anyone would have been confused in the first place. The characters have different prison names and don’t even look similar. They’re also imprisoned in different looking Cubes (with no indication given as to which is the earlier model). So what makes this film a prequel? It’s just another movie set in the same universe.
*. So when I say it fails badly in the explanation department I mean two things. First, that it doesn’t actually explain anything. And second because in attempting to explain at least part of the background it just makes a mess of things.
*. But the messiness goes further than this. The two technicians, for example, are a Pinteresque duo unsure about what it is they’re supposed to be doing. Most of their job seems to be sitting around waiting for orders that they don’t understand when they get. Do they even belong in such a film?
*. Perhaps. I think invoking Pinter is the way to go, since in this film we’ve gone from the existential to the absurd. What I mean by that (in case you’re raising a sceptical eyebrow at the distinction) is that nobody here is questioning the meaning or purpose of their existence or how the Cube will test them. Instead, the situation is just silly.
*. If I had to guess, I’d say the real presiding spirit is Terry Gilliam. I think that was the look they were going for, and the tone as well. The problem is that it’s not a good fit. The comic elements are too broad, and not well integrated with the rest of the picture. The violence is cartoonish, without ever being focused on anything enough to be political.
*. As of this writing, the franchise is dead. I consider that a blessing, as both of the sequels (or prequels) — Cube 2: Hypercube and Cube Zero — were awful. I guess there was just something about the basic idea of Cube that couldn’t be taken out of its box. The concept would certainly have legs, spawning a whole sub-genre that I call the Game of Death movies. Cube presented that concept in its purest, most abstract form. Unfortunately, it was also a dead end.

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