There was a viral tweet going around recently of a meme account getting roasted for implying that high school in 2002 was “so chill,” leading millennials of that age to share their horror stories of attending high school in a post-Columbine–9/11 world, among other things, including but not limited to rampant racism, homophobia, bullying, jingoism, etc. These accounts got me thinking, why do young people (including myself, admittedly) romanticize times that were clearly not “chill” at all? Is it the lack of technology? Is it the style that has been coming back? Is it pop culture? What was pop culture of that time? When my mind first went to movies, certain things came to mind, The Lord of the Rings was turning the world over, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films were changing the way we saw superhero films (how good that is in the light of day is debatable, but those [first two] films were wondrous), and there were horror remakes, there were so many goddamn horror remakes. While this trend has calmed down a bit in recent years, in lieu of the ever-so-elusive “reboot” or in the case of Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream, and the upcoming The Exorcist, the “legacy sequel,” we don’t see as many straight-up remakes on American shores anymore, but don’t fear! They’re still around! We just have to go to Japan to see what they’ve been cooking up in that realm.
Cube, based on the 1997 Canadian film from Vincenzo Natali, aptly titled Cube, is a rare bird in today’s horrorscape of being a relatively faithful remake of the original film, sans a few major character motivations, the setup is nearly 1:1. It almost feels a little too simple in the light of 2023 (or even 2021, when the film was released in Japan), but it’s rare to find Japanese remakes of American films, particularly after the boom of the early-to-mid-2000s of remaking nothing but Japanese films for American audiences.
However, this doesn’t mean Cube is necessarily good.
In a futuristic, metal, cube-shaped room, Yuichi Goto (Masaki Suda), Shinji Ochi (Masaki Okada), and child Chiharu Uno (Hikaru Tashiro) awake to find themselves trapped in its tight, confined quarters. They possess no memory of how they made it to this place, or how they have been placed in prisoners’ uniforms, nor do they know how to escape. As they slowly figure out the mechanics of their dystopian prison, they are entered upon by existing prisoners Asako Kai (Anne Watanabe), Hiroshi Ide (Takumi Saito), and Kazumasa Ando (Kōtarō Yoshida), who explain how to move between cubes via the various hatches on all sides, but that only a few of them don’t contain deadly traps to ensnare them into a grisly death. As clues become more apparent, the ragtag group begins to piece together how their prison works, and what mathematical clues inside can foster their escape before it’s too late.
Let’s say some good things about Cube while we’re here, because this is far from a completely unfortunate remake, at least in comparison to some of the worst we’ve been treated to over the years. This film, directed by Yasuhiko Shimizu, is an incredibly attractive film, with surprisingly competent visual effects. It’s sleek, well-lit (a blessing in 2023, unfortunately), and while the film is very homogenous-looking, as I assume the single cube was reused as multiple set pieces, it does help ratchet the inescapable tension of the cube itself. It lacks the somewhat Giger-esque style that Natali’s original iteration of The Cube had, going for a bit more of a futuristic-by-2023-standards look, but it doesn’t make the end product any less stylish.
Where Cube begins to struggle is in its justification of its 109-minute runtime, in comparison to the original film’s tighter 90-minute runtime. This leaves the resulting film feeling far more sluggish than the original, dragging behind it much more backstory and character development that, frankly, doesn’t serve the final film in any substantial way beyond just extending the film beyond its welcome.
This sluggishness is elevated even further when it becomes apparent how bloodless this remake truly is. The opening kill has a decent little jolt of energy (though paling in comparison to the original’s body-dicing goodness), but the remainder of the film relies very little on the actual mechanics of The Cube and its deadly traps, and far more on the volatile antics of the prisoners inside, leaving the final experience feeling incredibly neutered compared to the original, which, while hardly a major gorefest, knew when to play its hand sparingly to create some truly jarring and haunting moments of body horror. Removing that just makes Cube feel like a much more generic film overall, and that’s not what fans of the series are attracted to. Sure, it’s Saw with a brain (though the original series concluded before the original Saw was released), but keeping everything to mere mathematical calculations and interpersonal drama simply makes me wonder…why did we have to make this a Cube remake?
There are enough elements to Cube that justify its existence: the direction is sleek and attractive, the score is fun, and Masaki Suda makes for a very good lead at the center of the film, but for every one thing I appreciated, I was greeted with two things I found frustrating and underwhelming. For being such a straightforward remake of Cube, the film feels more akin to something like Escape Room (2019), Squid Game (2021), and a touch of Battle Royale (2000) than Cube, as it lacks that sharp, wire-thin edge that made the original Cube so fresh and thrilling. Without that, we’re simply left with another film, no matter how sleek it is, that is hitting the same points that every film about a group of strangers mysteriously finding themselves in a deadly situation that they must escape by banding together and putting their clashing personalities aside does, and therefore leaving the audience with something far less thrilling and enjoyable for a film that actually looks so enticing on paper.
Sometimes it feels like having something that has the individual elements to be good faltering in its final execution is even more frustrating than not even trying at all.
Available to stream on ScreamBox on April 11th, 2023.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.