Explore the bold reimagining of the 1997 cult classic horror film Cube in its Japanese remake. Cat Voleur discusses the updated themes, unique vision, and potential pitfalls of the 2023 version. Is it worth the watch? Find out in this in-depth review.
There are so many ways to screw up making a film. There are even more ways to screw up remaking a beloved film, particularly a cult classic such as the 1997 Canadian horror offering, Cube. But Japan has bravely tackled this challenge, and given us a particularly bold reimagining. And why not? English-language directors have been wildly reinterpreting J-horror for decades now.
Before I get into my review of Cube (2023) I want to share some of my own personal investment in the original. Cube (1997) is often the film that I credit as getting me into the horror genre. If you want to be accurate, I’m sure it wasn’t just one thing that got me into horror. I liked spooky books and shows, and dressing up for Halloween. All of those things contributed to my current genre obsession, I’m sure.
Cube also wasn’t my first horror movie. I’m sure that honor went to some old Vincent Price title, or the classic Universal Monster movies I used to watch with my mom.
However, Cube was the first horror movie I watched that I was aware was a horror movie. It was not for kids, or family friendly. It wasn’t even in the comforting black and white style that I was used to seeing in the house. It was tense, and bloody, and filled with terrible things that I had never considered before. It kept me up at night. It made me crave more horror movies, a passion that persists still even twenty years after my first viewing.
Looking back, it was also so far ahead of its time. Horror has always been political, but Cube strikes a fascinating balance of critiquing society while also being vague. Through frustrated rants we see what the victims think of their government. Through their strained actions we see the best and worst of humanity on an individual basis. It was horror at an intimate level with an honestly terrifying scope that packs quite the punch in roughly ninety minutes.
It also paved the way for multiple subgenres. When you think of Cube you may well think of science fiction horror. But it came out over a decade before a niche, stylistic trend of having intricately focused, high concept horror films that became popular in the 2010’s, such as The Circle or The Platform. Furthermore, I would argue that it helped acquaint audiences to extravagant deaths before the golden age of torture porn that gained widespread popularity in the early 2000’s with titles like Saw and Hostel.
Cube may not be the most popular 90’s horror film, but it carries its weight in terms of influence, and left its legacy in horror. On a personal and critical level, the remake had some big shoes to fill.
I was hopeful going in because I think the strangeness of the concept paired with the emotional turmoil of the characters are styles of storytelling well-suited to J-horror. I also felt that they’d be able to take the traps in some new and interesting directions – especially with their bold style of visuals.
Perhaps I got my hopes up a little too high?
Though other early reviews for Cube seem to be mostly positive, there were many creative decisions that I felt lessened the impact of the story overall. While there were things I appreciated, and I had some fun watching, I have many critical objections to the film as a whole.
There are certain things that I expect from a remake to make it successful. Cube did give me some of these things. It stayed true to much of the core concept of the source material, while also telling a unique story to justify being remade in the first place. One thing that I appreciate about the 2023 version is how it had to not only update the story, but traverse cultural differences. Those were two big hurdles that I don’t think the remake necessarily cleared, but you can see where the attempt was made.
Whereas the original movie feels timeless, there was something very personal about seeing more current issues brought to the screen in this environment. The original deals with red tape nonsense, the misuse of funds, and a general distrust in the government. I have to give a lot of credit to the newer version for choosing its own themes to tackle instead of rehashing what we’ve already seen – despite its persisting relevance in today’s culture.
Cube (2023) focuses more on feelings of regret paired with the cultural differences between generations. This is something that is also strongly felt in society today, and even more-so in Japan. Therefore, even though I disagree with the execution in many points, I do feel like the remake justifies itself.
I also really appreciated the design of the cube. Whereas the ‘97 version felt very high tech, and offered a delicate versatility in its set design, the remake feels very industrial. It definitely loses some points for not being as eye-catching or interesting to look at, but the hyper-modern design of this cube is very effective for the story it’s trying to tell. It’s a product of its time. It feels more like a prison and offers a more claustrophobic design that works for the narrative and the characters who begin butting heads early in.
Again, I like the original better for how timeless and unique it is, but I have to give credit where credit is due to the remake; it had its own unique vision. For these reasons, I think it had the potential to do very well.
So where did it go wrong?
For one, the scaling of the traps was all over the place. Often they felt like clumsier versions of traps we’d already seen in the original, whereas some didn’t make sense. They seemed more survivable overall, which robbed the audience of a certain tension when trying to discover which rooms were and were not trapped. There was one trap room in particular that completely broke my suspension of disbelief. While I might not have been opposed to a more surrealist take on this movie, that’s something I would have had to be introduced to much earlier in the remake’s runtime, as opposed to being blindsided so far in.
I also didn’t like that there were scenes that took place outside the cube. This was especially frustrating because the set lends itself so well to claustrophobia that wasn’t fully utilized thanks to flashback scenes that were quite honestly not needed. These also padded the runtime which, while not exactly indulgent, strays from the more focused narrative of the original in a way that was less than pleasing.
Finally, I felt the characterization was weak. For a character study like this to really work, we need to have at least a small taste of who the characters were. This was one area that, had they focused on, could have potentially improved from the ‘97 film, and so I was more than a little let down to see they went the other direction. Reliance on flashbacks to tell us the character backstories felt like a crutch that kept us from knowing who characters really were. Everyone had an identifying trait or feature that made it easy enough to tell them apart, but their individual arcs were being told to us; not shown.
This was especially appalling in the case of the one female character whose name I don’t even remember, and whom I kept thinking had died because she contributed so little to the plot. Her rather abrupt conclusion from the story, when it did come, had me wracking my brain trying to figure out what I could be missing and what could possibly be going through her mind.
All in all, I have to say I’m more than a little disappointed. While I appreciate the groundwork that was in place for the remake, and applaud the effort that was made to create something new from the source material, the final product fell very flat. I’m not sure it’s a movie that could stand on its own two legs, and it doesn’t hold a candle to what came before.