Cube Zero (February 13/05)
Cube Zero is being advertised as a prequel to Vincenzo Natali's sci-fi classic Cube, but this would appear to be some kind of marketing ploy; there's nothing here to indicate any of the film's events transpire prior to Natali's version. But the most surprising thing about Cube Zero is how effective it is, particularly when compared to its predecessor; writer/director Ernie Barbarash employs many of the same elements that made the original so enjoyable (ie incredibly brutal deaths), while also peppering the story with some new elements (the one thing Barbarash doesn't have on his side is freshness, as there's already been one direct-to-video sequel in this franchise).
Instead of focusing entirely on a group of characters stuck inside the cube, Barbarash throws in a subplot involving two low-level employees who are responsible for keeping an eye on the cube's victims. As a result, we do learn more about the cube's existence - though Barbarash smartly refuses to divulge everything, occasionally contradicting certain revelations with something entirely different (this is in addition to the appearance of certain elements within the cube that go unexplained). There's even an appearance by an odd, robotic-eye sporting executive named Jax (Michael Riley), who seems as though he'd be more at home in a David Cronenberg flick.
Cube Zero opens with a fantastic sequence in which a hapless victim trudges into one of the cube's many rooms, and finds himself sprayed with a water-like substance (suffice it to say, it's not water). It's something that one expects out of a Cube flick - ie flamboyant on-screen deaths - and in that respect, the movie does not disappoint. But, like Natali's original (which is, admittedly, superior), there's more to the film than just blood and gore; it's the escape efforts of these disparate survivors that proves to be the most intriguing aspect of the story.
The performances are surprisingly strong, with Stephanie Moore and Zachary Bennett the obvious standouts (the latter is particularly effective as an employee of the cube who makes the mistake of questioning its very existence). And while it would've been nice if the film had answered a few more questions than it posed, there's no denying that Cube Zero is a worthy addition to (hopefully) an ongoing franchise.