As bad science fiction movies go, Cube (1997) is a pretty decent one. Six strangers awaken in a mysterious high-tech prison composed of fourteen-by-fourteen foot interlocking cubes, each side with a door in its center. The prisoners can open the doors and move from cell to cell, but not without risking their lives — some cells are booby-trapped. By analyzing number sequences on the cell doors, young mathematics student Leaven (Nicole de Boer) thinks she can guide them to the exit. But the contentious inmates, ever arguing over their situation, struggle to cooperate and save themselves.
It’s a clever locked-room, bottle-show premise, inventively shooting and lighting its lone set to cast the illusion of a vast edifice of interconnected cells. The stakes are set early, establishing a “who will survive?” horror tension to the proceedings. But it quickly becomes apparent that the surface situation is a vast literalized metaphor, an existential thought experiment. The prisoners represent humanity, and the prison is life; nobody knows why they’re there, or what they should do, and their interactions in search of that meaning are fraught with conflict. It’s a clever idea.
Sadly, the acting is pretty terrible, and the dialogue frequently doesn’t help them out. Only de Boer and David Hewlett come off at all well. (Hewlett plays a man named “Worth” — get it? “Leaven” and “Worth?”) Had the script been more artful, and the cast more convincing, I might recommend this more highly. As-is, it’s an earnest B-movie effort, an interesting whole composed of some iffy parts.