Cube: Ichido haittara, saigo [Cube] (2021)

(Literal Translation:  Cube: Once You Are Done, the Last)

I suppose it was inevitable.

This is, after all, the age of the remake, of the totally unnecessary sequel, and, dear Lord help us all, the “re-imagining.”

Now the original Cube was an absolutely brilliant films, which found a way to take advantage of its minimal resources by putting all the action within a single tiny room.

Well, a vast number of identical rooms, but the idea is basically the same.

And, once again, in the Japanese version, we have a group of strangers waking up in the Cube with no memory of how they got there, and discovering that they are in a seemingly endless series of identical cubes, some of which contain deadly traps of one sort or another.

I found myself trying to relate the characters in this version to those in the original film, and as a result was rather surprised when one character got killed off “early.”  It’s hard to miss that there was some attempt made to match them with the original characters, as you can recognize some of the same traits and behaviors, but then things went in very different directions.

And, no, I’m not just referring to the fact that the traps are different.  After all, one expects that, as one of the selling points of any sequel or remake is that we get to see something new.

But this exposes some of the real weaknesses of this film.  I know there are some who will argue that the characters are better developed in this film, because we get glimpses of the past of a few characters and learn what their demons are.

However, where it falls apart is that, in the original, the plot depended on important knowledge or skills that each of the prisoners trapped in the Cube had.

While there are hints of it here, these things are mostly left undeveloped.  One of the characters, for example, demonstrates impressive math skills, and makes a few scratchy sketches of the layout of the Cube itself, but it’s just dropped in and barely explained or commented on by any of the others.  Nor do we have a character capable of doing the insane mathematics the original required to figure out the numbers on each smaller cube.  As a result, the math gets done, with little explanation, and they figure out a way to escape but it feels like an unimportant afterthought.  It’s just announced right before they go do it.

Or consider David Hewlett’s role in the original, as a bureaucrat who knows something about the Cube, as he worked on the design of its outer shell.  He’s vital to the story for three main reasons:  One, he gives us a few clues about what the cube is even if he knows very little of it; two, he gives us an admittedly minimal explanation of what it is for and how it is being used, which does offer a few clues about why they might be there; and three, his knowledge leaves him in a horrified state of lassitude, unwilling to do anything to escape what he knows is inescapable, which adds to the oppressiveness of an already appalling situation.

Instead, we have a somewhat similar character whom the others suspect knows more than he’s telling.  But he gets killed off before he can tell them anything useful.

So what does this version of Cube offer us to take the place of all it has ignored or diminished?

Instead, we get glimpses into the lives of two of the main characters before they woke up in the Cube.  This is there to explain their behavior, but, frankly, I think Vincenzo Natali made a far better choice when he decided not to show us anything of the outside world.  After all, we have no idea whether this story takes place in the past, present or future and we can’t even judge by the fashions as everyone is dressed in identical jumpsuits.  This also leads to one of the weirdest scenes in the whole film, when some of the group enter a room, only for one end of it to turn into a projection showing a critical scene from a character’s life.  To even begin to accept this at face value, we would have to believe that someone was there unseen when it happened, carrying around a high-quality video camera to capture the moment.

Yeah, right.

Nor can we easily dismiss it as a dream or mental illusion as someone else is in the room at the same time and apparently sees it as well.

This points at what is the true problem here: lately we’ve seen a lot of Japanese horror films, many of which have science fictional elements, but which instead emphasize the psychological horrors at the expense of the logic of the story.  This version of Cube fails to explain the Cube and its makeup, why it exists and how it is being used, the math in the code etched into each doorway and how they manage to unlock it, even though they could have borrowed it directly from the original.  There is a very simple reason for this

They don’t care.

However, the problem is that all of these elements are part of what made the original so scary.  And they may think that glimpses of character development, or weird and fantastic elements (like the final ending twist, or a character’s inexplicable choice to remain behind) will make up for ignoring the solid, foundational logic that made the original so strong.

But they are very wrong.

I will give them credit for one interesting minor detail, though:  while the design of the rooms is not as good as that in the original, with its complex patterns covering the light up panels, they do some interesting things with the color, by having its intensity strengthen or fade away, and, in one scene at the end, actually flashing and changing to match the violent outbursts of a character, as if he is controlling it all psychically.

But it is a minor plus at best, and is most effective, ironically, when you see it least.

In fact, it’s a bit too much in that one, overly dramatic scene.

Oh, well.

The best part of remakes and sequels is that we still have the original film.

No matter how disappointing the new one may be.

So by all means, go back and see Vincenzo Natali’s original film.  It’s a great, scary and very intelligent film which made a virtue of its limits.

And you just won’t find any of that in this remake…

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