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February 20, 2007

In Case You Missed It—February 20, 2007

Cube (1997)

There are a lot of low budget sci-fi/horror films floating around out there. The vast majority are unmitigated crap. They’re usually some amateur director’s attempt to be the next Kevin Smith, to make some dark-horse blockbuster that will get them a movie deal and get them out of the Kwik-E Mart (and their mom’s basement). These films are all-out gore fests orchestrated by talentless hacks that need to watch a lot less John Carpenter and a lot more Hitchcock.

The premise of Cube is simple: A group of random strangers are trapped in a three-dimensional maze filled with deadly traps. They know nothing about the cube other than they are in it and that getting out is nearly impossible. Each room is one single cube with six exits that connect to six more cubes. Each may be filled with traps, or it may not. The premise is simple, yet terrifying. Waking up in a death trap–filled maze is terrifying, but it’s a comfort to know exactly why you’re there and exactly what you have to do, as in the Saw films. In Cube, there is no villain and no master plan. The characters do not know how they got there, why they were put there, or even if it’s possible to survive. There is no government plot, no secret alien plan—in short, no one is in charge. It’s a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan.

But of course, the greatest enemy of the captives in Cube is not the cube, but the captives themselves. The result is a thrilling game of cat and mouse through the deadly corridors of the unthinking, homicidal cube. It’s exciting and disturbing on a scale rarely matched. Cube is a portrait of human stupidity and sadism run amok—a lot more frightening than Michael Myers slashing suburban teens.

I’ve always been convinced that the most disturbing movies are the ones where death comes quickly, randomly, and without warning. Human life is a very fragile thing, and all it takes is a subtle reminder of that to scare an audience senseless. Perhaps even scarier are movies that showcase the frailty of human sanity. The black abyss over which our civilized world teeters is exactly what the scariest movies peer into, and Cube peers very deeply indeed.

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

This movie came to me highly recommended and seems to have gotten rave reviews. It seemed like exactly the kind of black sheep that I should talk about, a lonely, unrecognized film that deserved greater marketing and release. That was, of course, before I actually watched it.

The Squid and the Whale is funny; I’ll give it that. Jeff Daniels gives an amazing performance as a pseudo-intellectual has-been father. His character desperately tries to be smarter than everyone around him, but consistently fails in the most hilarious, pretentious, and, dare I say, U of C–like fashion. It’s a great performance for which Daniels deserves kudos.

Laura Linney is her usual intelligent, wounded, and perpetually correct self. I don’t mind her as an actress, but her roles are just variations on what I imagine is her normal personality (since I’ve never seen her play another role).

The story centers around the divorce of Daniels and Linney and its effect on their children. It’s a twisted, darkly funny, and interesting tale, but nothing worth an award. Its nomination for best writing at the Oscars was dubious—at least it didn’t win.

That’s all for this week. As always, I’m constantly looking for suggestions. If you have a movie, book, TV show, band, or video game that you feel hasn’t gotten the recognition it deserves, send me an e-mail at bmw940@uchicago.edu.