Cube Zero (2004)


Canada. 2004.


Director/Screenplay – Ernie Barbarash, Producers – Suzanne Colvin Goulding & Jon Goulding, Photography – Francois Dagenais, Music – Norman Orenstein, Visual Effects – Mr. X Inc. (Supervisor – Aaron Weintraub), Special Effects – JMS SPFX Ltd. (Supervisor – Jeff M. Skochko), Makeup Effects – Grand Unified Theories (Supervisors – A.S. Hamilton & Maya Kulenovic), Eye Effects – Mandy Ketcherson, Production Design – Jon Goulding. Production Company – Lions Gate Films/Mad Circus Films Inc/Mr. X Inc./Cube Forward Productions Inc


Zachary Bennett (Eric Wynn), David Huband (Dodd), Stephanie Moore (Cassandra Rains), Martin Roach (Robert Haskell), Michael Riley (Mr Jax), Mike “Nug” Nahrgang (Meyerhold), Terri Hawkes (Jellico), Richard McMillan (Bartok), Josh Peace (Mr Finn), Diego Klattenhoff (Mr Quigley), Tony Munch (Owen)


Two technicians, Wynn and Dodd, are monitoring another group of people as they navigate the maze inside one of the cubes. The highly intelligent Wynn is drawn to Rains, one of the women in the current experiment. Wynn becomes upset after realising that she is a political protestor who has been placed inside without signed consent. He breaks strict protocol and enters the cube himself to guide the group to safety. This causes much upset with the controllers upstairs who send a team down to eliminate Wynn and all of the others inside the cube.

Vincenzo Natali’s Cube (1997) was a cult hit at worldwide film festivals with its ingenious premise of a group of strangers attempting to puzzle their way through a deadly labyrinth. That success spawned a better-budgeted sequel with Cube2: Hypercube (2002). Cube Zero was the third and so far last of the Cube films. With Cube Zero, direction has been handed over to Ernie Barbarash who also wrote and produced Cube2: Hypercube. Barbarash has directed a number of other genre films subsequently, including Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming (2007), They Wait (2007), Hardwired (2009), Meteor (tv mini-series, 2009) and Ticking Clock (2010).

Cube Zero is stuck with the problem of being a second sequel to a series with an initial concept that does not offer much room for expansion. Cube2: Hypercube did an effective job of expanding the basics by stretching the cube dimensionally, allowing time travel and strange permutations of space. Cube Zero apparently cannot think of anything to add to that and so returns to the original cube’s basic design – its one novelty as a story is focusing on the technicians monitoring the experiment. Somehow, watching technicians sitting at their desks trying to while away time is a far less interesting concept than one where people are trying to puzzle out the nature of the labyrinth they are trapped inside. Ernie Barbarash does not seem interested in the scenes inside the maze and these offer little that is new or different to what has been established before.

Unfortunately, this means that all we are left with the drama outside the cube – the first half of the film is centred around the bickering between the two bored technicians, which seems to go on forever. There is an interesting attempt to set everything inside a retro-futurist world – but despite the film’s focus on the controllers for the bulk of its running time, it comes no closer to offering any explanation for the cubes or the purpose of the experiments. (Not to mention that the retro-future seems to contradict the events of Cube2, which gave the appearance that everything was set contemporary). As Cube Zero goes on, it only gets sillier. The worst part is the performance of Michael Riley as the supervisor from upstairs. Riley has chosen to play the part dressed as a fop and Ernie Barbarash allows his performance to go completely over the top to astonishingly awful degrees. And then there are bits where the plot is allowed to slide into the absurdly comic-bookish – like one of the group inside the labyrinth being a soldier and the controllers finding the means to do a Universal Soldier (1992) and turn him into a programmed assassin hunting the others – with green glowing eyes! There is an interesting ending where we get the suggestion that Andrew Miller’s savant in Cube was caused by deliberate brain surgery. Unfortunately, the silly comic-book devices, bad acting and low-budget production drag the series high concept down.

Ernie Barbarash’s other addition to the series is that of plentiful gore sequences. There is an undeniably eye-catching opening scene where Jasmin Geljo enters a room and is sprayed with what seems like water, only for it to start peeling his skin off and cause his flesh to collapse to the floor, leaving a denuded skeleton. Elsewhere there are scenes where Richard McMillan is caught by razor wires and sliced apart, where we see a victim chained up and burned away to the skeleton or where another person is infected with a disease that causes their skin to peel away before they are splattered in a trap. What we have now feels less like a science-fictional conceptual puzzle film than a horror film focused around the provision of novelty gore effects at regular intervals.

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