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With a shoestring budget, little-known actors, and a tiny set, director and co-writer Vincenzo Natali has created a compelling and gripping movie that will keep you engaged from intriguing beginning to startling end. The film was funded by the Canadian Film Centre, with special effects supplied free of charge by the Toronto visual effects company C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures; it’s an eloquent argument that it doesn’t have to take millions to make an outstanding movie: it takes creativity and imagination and the willingness to take artistic risks.

Cube starts out with one of the most original and intriguing opening sequences I’ve seen in a while. The camera is looking in on a gaunt, desperate-looking man who is climbing through a strange cube-shaped room which has trapdoors in each interior face leading to more cube-rooms. Tension rises; there is something very strange and disturbing going on here...

The premise is the basic one of “strangers must cooperate in order to survive”: six characters (Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, etc) have all awakened in this strange cube with no idea why they’re there or how they can escape. The genius of Cube is that there are real surprises in store for the audience here. For one thing, our loyalties to the characters have to be questioned as the film progresses and personalities (and motivations) are revealed. The film’s events and revelations raise disturbing questions in the characters’ minds, and thus in the audience’s mind, about certain aspects of our society, and our potential complicity in situations that we would normally strenuously protest.

The acting is unfortunately one of the weaker elements of the movie, with an overall amateurish feel. I got a sense of the actors being conscious of “acting out” their roles, instead of portraying them in a natural manner.

Despite the claustrophobically contained location, the story moves along at a brisk pace. Early in the film, I briefly thought "Oh, no. Are we going to be stuck in this cube for the whole movie?" As it turned out, I forgot all about that question as the movie went on. With the story combining the internal struggles of the characters and their external struggle to escape, there were no dull moments. The various dangers that the characters encounter are presented very effectively, so that on several occasions I was practically holding my breath in anxiety for what I feared was going to happen. There are some extremely gruesome moments in the film, made all the more shocking by their sheer unexpectedness. Cube keeps the tension level humming at a high level throughout the whole film, but on a psychological level; when an act of violence occurs, it’s horrifying and shocking because the brutality occurs on a very personal and individual level where the audience relates to it personally, completely unlike the depersonalized, sanitized violence of mainstream action or horror movies.

Cube may be low-budget, but it's not cheesy. The special effects are well done, including one at the beginning of the film that has to fall into the category of “impressive.” The effects are integrated well into the movie: they’re used when necessary in the story, not thrown in just for the sake of special effects.

Cube is presented in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. The peculiar nature of the lighting in the sets makes it difficult to judge the image; it’s not quite as sharp as it could be, but it’s satisfactory. The overall quality of the image is quite good, considering that it’s not anamorphic. There’s almost no noise, and the contrast is satisfactory as well.

Cube is a movie that should have had Dolby 5.1 sound, to fully convey the three-dimensional experience of being in the cube. Alas, the sound is only Dolby Digital 2.0. Dialogue is clear for the most part, though, and the effects sound good though they don't provide much "surround" effect.

The Cube DVD has a reasonable assortment of special features. Several deleted scenes are provided; they seem to be from a quite early cut of the film. The audio commentary with the director provides some interesting insights into the development of the film, the problems they encountered while filming it, and the decisions they made in creating and developing the story.

Other special features include storyboards, trailer, special effects artwork, and material on production and set design.

Overall, Cube is a very distinctive and original movie that’s well worth watching. It’s science fiction that explores the imaginative and philosophical possibilities of the genre, in the worthy company of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cube will linger in your mind long after you’ve forgotten the latest Hollywood blockbuster.