“Cube” (2021) is a rare instance of a Japanese remake that doesn’t compare to its Western counterpart, rather than the other way around.
If you walk into the 2021 Japanese remake of Cube thinking about the original Canadian sci-fi horror film from 1997, it simply doesn’t work.
I made that mistake. I had recently watched the original movie, so I was excited to see this remake (Japanese horror is typically fantastic). This one fell short in comparison. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something to offer genre fans. It’s all about expectations here and understanding that this is far more of a drama than a horror film.
Though it is billed as a remake, it’s best viewed as an anthology entry.
Cube (2021) begins with a man, Goto, waking up on the floor and realizing he’s in the cube-shaped prison with two other people: Ochi and a child who doesn’t talk named Chiharu. Ide, an intelligent escapist, crashes in and alerts them all to the possibility of traps within the various rooms. Then they pick up Ando, an older man. Kai, a woman, joins them later. From there, they try to survive the cube.
I thought some of the traps were interesting. I loved seeing how the Japanese would engineer these designs,
Unfortunately, the film lacked originality when it came to cinematography. Mixing up the straight-on shots worked very well in the original. Failing to do so here makes the viewer feel bored, even if they don’t quite understand why. It could have been a purely story-driven choice in order to bring the audience into the cube, but it didn’t work for me.
Though there’s less complexity overall, the new traps and psychological torture add a layer of paranoia that wasn’t present in the 1997 movie.
Though there are almost no questions about why they’re there or truly what the cube is (they focus on working on the problem instead), we still see this overarching theme of the Cube as hinted at being AI. It’s also implied that the cube is the ultimate form of suffering/torture for people; the traps are designed to take a solid piece of you in any way they can.
A central issue I had was the suspension of disbelief in that not only were they trapped in a cube (okay), but none of them seemed to be suffering from starvation or slow dehydration.
We don’t know how long they’ve been in there, and no one seems to be thinking about it. At a minimum, everyone refuses to acknowledge the elephant in the room: you will die if you don’t get out. This serves to lower the stakes and make it less compelling.
The only real risk is the traps themselves. And though it’s clever to change the traps/characters so we don’t know who is genuinely at risk and who isn’t, I think these dangers should’ve been worked into the plot.
Additionally, there was at least one character who didn’t need to be there because they fulfilled no role or function in the story.
We do get some tense, dramatic moments and solid acting, making it feel more like a drama than a psychological thriller.
In these movies, there’s always a villain — someone who loses touch with reality and goes psycho. Who it is will surprise you, along with the brutality. There’s no evidence of a killer behind their face.
The first half was plodding, with the second act being much more enjoyable. That’s when the story found its footing.
The musical scoring also added to the effect overall; at times, it’s light, then other times, it packs a punch with emotion when necessary.
Once I shed the idea that this would be like its predecessor, I found it to be a much better movie. And I respect that they really made it their own. But fans of the original’s thrilling and unique concept may find this offering lackluster in comparison.