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Film / Cube Zero

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Cube Zero is a 2004 Canadian science fiction/horror film and the third film in the Cube series, although it's a prequel to the original.

Two technicians, Wynn (Zachary Bennett) and Dodd (David Huband), are observing the occupants of another Cube. Having to oversee all the deaths inside on a daily basis, they're both resigned to their permanent jobs and afraid of ending up in there themselves. Things change when Wynn becomes interested in one of the captives and discovers that her use as a lab rat wasn't properly authorized. He heads down to the lower levels to help them, upon which the higher-ups in charge of the Cube project send down their own team to extract Wynn.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acronym Confusion: The C,I,A aren't the people who built the Cube; it's just a labelling system for the rooms (hence the commas). Later someone sees one labelled S,O,S and can only comment, "No kidding!"
  • And I Must Scream: Dodd swallows a widget that Jax needs. Jax uses an instant paralysis powder to incapacitate him before cutting it out of his stomach - and deliberately notes that even though Dodd is paralyzed, he'll still be able to feel it. We do hear him screaming, though.
  • And Your Reward Is Edible: Jax gives Dodd a food pill as a reward for locating Wynn. Once he's gone, Dodd secretly spits it out in case it's another kind of pill.
  • Armies Are Evil: The Squads are brainwashed super soldiers who work for the evil government behind the Cube.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Wynn has the ability to visualize and rapidly analyze complex systems in his mind. He uses this both to easily win a chess game by calculating all the moves and to figure out a safe route through the Cube when he's inside by mapping all the rooms.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Jax and the other villains win. Wynn is lobotomized and thrown back in the cube and Rains is on the run until she'll be recaptured. Everybody else dies.
  • Bait-and-Switch
    • The first victim triggers a booby trap and is sprayed by liquid. He screams anticipating the Acid Pool of the first movie, only to find it's water instead. Then it turns out to be a trap after all when his flesh melts off.
    • The prisoners find letters stamped on the room: C,I,A. Aha, the Agency is behind it all! Then it turns out that all the rooms have different letters used to identify them.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: The two main characters are the Orwellian observers of the Cube's occupants and perform its day-to-day operations. At the same time they also have people to answer to and are inferred to be under constant surveillance themselves, as their masters throw the technicians into the Cube if they become too much of a nuisance. This is because the technicians are actually another level of the Cube experiment — observing the observers and such.
  • Big Brother Is Watching You: The Cube occupants are covertly monitored by the mysterious controllers of the Cube, but the film plays with this by making the two observers the focus characters.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: This movie is noticeably gorier than previous installments, with people being blown up, dissected, burned alive, melted into a bloody puddle or rotting away from a flesh-eating virus onscreen.
  • Bothering by the Book: When Dodd refuses to call upstairs about the lack of consent form in Rain's file, Wynn refuses to assist him with the Exit procedure which can only be done by a qualified technician.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Haskell is remotely reprogrammed by activating the military chip placed into his brain from when he was a soldier. He tries to kill Wynn and Rains before they escape him.
  • Brown Note: One of the rooms has sound emitters which cause flesh to instantly and explosively liquefy, like popping a balloon.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Jax is very effective at his work, but has a highly unusual personality.
  • Call-Back: Various ones to the first movie.
    • The booby-trapped rooms are tested by throwing their boots inside first. The booby-traps themselves include the flamethrowers and folding razor-wire trap.
    • In the first movie the conspiracy theorist said that "They" come for you at night. Here it's said the Secret Police do the same when making people disappear.
    • Wynn's actions and words after he is lobotomized are the same as Kazan in his introduction, implying that Kazan was lobotomized rather than being handicapped.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The clear Black-and-White Morality of this movie and the fact that all the characters know (more or less) what the Cube is and who runs it notably contradict the Kafkaesque atmosphere of the first movie, in which none of the characters even knew the nature or the origin of the Cube. Not to mention that the first 2 movies heavily imply that they are set in an (otherwise mundane) The Present Day, while this prequel is set in some kind of an obviously futuristic Orwellian theocracy.
  • Condemned Contestant: All the people inside the Cube are condemned criminals who have signed an agreement to be used as lab rats in the Cube. Their crimes are whatever the evil government deems them to be, however. The Cube technicians are themselves also guinea pigs.
  • Dream Walker: Test subjects have their dreams monitored and recorded. In Rain's case this is used to provide How We Got Here exposition.
  • Electronic Eyes: Jax lost one of his eyes due a mechanical mishap and had it replaced with a robotic one. It's only a Red Right Hand however and he never uses it for superhuman feats.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: One of the rooms contains a bunch of bloody piles of clothing. This is because the sound-based trap inside causes the victim to instantly liquefy.
  • Empty Room Until the Trap: Averted in the room that kills Meyerhold, which still contains the "remains" of multiple people—piles of bloody clothing.
  • Episode Zero: The Beginning
  • Evil Is Hammy: Michael Riley is completely hamming it up as Jax, the main bad guy the controllers upstairs send down. He's basically an over-the-top caricature who just revels in his evil and is clearly enjoying himself thoroughly.
  • Evil Stole My Faith: At the end of the titular Death Trap filled labyrinth any survivors are asked if they believe in God. If they say "no", the Cube's operators press a button marked "No" which causes the survivor to be incinerated. When the new operator asks what the button marked "Yes" does, the other much older operator says he doesn't know: no one has ever said "Yes".
  • Fate Worse than Death: By the end, staying in or around the cube becomes this to Wynn. He actually tries to get himself executed by making it clear that he chooses death over the cube, but he doesn't get a choice in the matter - he already waived this right a long time ago, which he simply doesn't remember. He's lobotomized and thrown back in.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Jax behaves like a jolly enforcer of the government and maintains a pleasant but scornful demeanor while he murders people and hunts down his human lab rats.
  • Feel No Pain: The Cube soldiers as part of their programming. After Haskell is 'reactivated', he is impaled on a spike by the escaping heroes and shrugs the injury off. When the Cube then undergoes a clean sweep (every occupant inside being vaporized at once) he looks with bemusement at his scorching hand until he's gone.
    • Though that doesn't explain how he can be taken down with a Groin Attack.
  • Food Pills: The two technicians are sent down a silver service tray in the elevator. When they take off the lid, there's only their written orders and a couple of pills.
    Dodd: Ah, good. They didn't forget lunch this time. (picks up green pill and reads writing on in) Goat-cheese salad with ginseng, liver fricassee and mango sorbet. Ew, must be you. (hands it to colleague; picks up red pill) Steak frites. That's me.
  • For the Evulz: Arguably the Cube's existence overall, since despite characters referring to it as an "experiment" it doesn't seem to serve any purpose besides torturing and killing people that could have been killed in significantly less gruesome (and expensive) ways.
  • Good with Numbers: Wynn. At the end, he is lobotomized and put in the cube, suggesting that Kazan was once a Cube Technician as well, or even that Kazan actually IS Wynn, since Jax sentenced him to "Two more lifetimes", which would make him the only character to have escaped the cube more than once.
  • Gorn: The movie opens with a character getting sprayed with a liquid that turns out to be a fast-acting form of necrotizing faciitis. The skin of his hand peels off, and he proceeds to melt into a bloody puddle. The same viral agent also infects several other characters later on, albeit in smaller doses.
  • Government Conspiracy: The proto-Cube seems to be controlled by a future theocratic dictatorship.
  • The Heavy: Jax is the most palpable human threat in the film as the evil organization's field man who directly cleans up after their experiment goes awry when one of the technicians revolts. He's shown receiving orders over the phone from people higher up in the chain, but they're never seen.
  • Heel Realization: Wynn slowly begins to realize that the Cube masters are putting innocent people in the Cube who fall afoul of the state instead of death row inmates. After being forced to carry out his orders to kill one of his former colleagues he turns on them and tries to help the Cube prisoners.
  • Hellevator: The wood-panelled elevator can take you up to the implied luxury of the Powers That Be, or down to the living hell of the Cube. Incidentally anyone who makes it to the exit and fails to believe in God is burnt alive in what's presumably an In-Universe Rule of Symbolism.
  • Identity Amnesia: Rain sees her daughter hauled off by black-clad soldiers. She then wakes up in the Cube with no idea of where her daughter is, and can't even remember her name.
  • Idiot Savant: Creepily hinted at with Wynn as having become this at the end. He's lobotomized, thrown back in the Cube, and found by some other prisoners, mirroring Kazan's introduction. The last shot of the film settles on his tapping fingers as a computer interface is softly heard in the background...
  • I'm Melting!: A particularly disgusting example happens when a character who appears in the opening minutes gets completely sprayed with some sort of odorless tissue-eating acid. He initially thinks that it's water, thirstily gulping it down before noticing that his skin turns waxy and starts to flake off.
  • Instant Sedation: Jax paralyzes Dodd by blowing some kind of dust in his face through his pen. The victim drops to the ground instantly.
    Jax: Ooh, instant paralysis. They weren't kidding, were they?
  • Just Following Orders: Dodd has resigned himself to his job of overseeing the deaths of countless people trapped in the Cube by just keeping his head down and obeying the orders sent down to him without question, in the hopes they won't throw him in there as well. The trope is later lampshaded by Rain to Wynn.
  • Kangaroo Court: All the people thrown in the Cube have been selected after show trials condemning them for crimes "against their country and their God", i.e. opposing the dictatorship. Jax even holds a mock trial before Wynn where he just passes down the sentence.
  • Killer Game Master: When Wynn infiltrates the Cube and starts using his knowledge to circumvent the traps, Jax reorganizes the maze so trap rooms completely surround the one he is currently inhabiting.
  • Lobotomy: A man who managed to escape the Cube was recaptured by the people running the Cube project and given a lobotomy, and put back in the Cube.
  • Longer-Than-Life Sentence: At the end, Wynn gets two more life sentences added to his existing sentence.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Jax keeps deliberately misnaming Dodd with names such as "Mr. Codd", "Mr. Clodd" and "Mr. Wad" to assert his authority and contempt for the 'button guy'. He only addresses him by his proper name when Dodd shows he's not entirely a coward and purposely sabotages his plans.
  • Mind-Control Eyes: The mind-controlled soldiers have green eyes whenever they're "activated".
  • No One Could Survive That!: When Haskell's bio-chip activated, he screams in pain and apparently falls to his death. The others decide he must be dead and don't go to check in him, only for Haskell to come after them as an Artificial Zombie (though it's not clear if he was Only Mostly Dead).
  • Oh, Crap!: Dodd hears the elevator outside moving a short while after Wynn left to abandon his post and enter the Cube. With relief Dodd calls him out as a stupid jackass, only to stand face to face with the Orwellian guys from upstairs running the Cube. His expression should be obvious.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Cube technicians are tasked with running a giant death maze as part of their permanent jobs. Their affection varies: one is sickened by everything he sees and questions their authorities while the other one is paranoid about ending up in there himself and keeps his head down. Quite literally in fact — Dodd actually clocks out when he signs off and goes to sleep.
  • Rage Within the Machine: The two protagonists are a division of a vaguely theocratic government responsible for monitoring the declared enemies of the state who are thrown in the Cube to be experimented on. They're both resigned to their horrifying jobs at first, but one eventually realizes what he is part of and tries to rescue the people inside, only for the scary men from upstairs to come down and track him down.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Played with when Wynn suggests that Rain escaped and Jax (for once) doesn't have a snappy comeback, implying this is true. Rain then has an Imagine Spot of Rain having found her daughter and hiding in the woods. Wynn himself however ends up back in the Cube as a lobotomized test subject.
  • Redemption Equals Death: After Dodd has aided the Cube puppeteers for a long time and ignored all the people he's been ordered to kill, he helps Wynn escape from the Cube by sabotaging the Cube's power supply, knowing that this would mean certain death. Dodd is then murdered by Jax for his troubles.
  • Red Right Hand: Jax has a cybernetic implant fitted where his right eye used to be. It's never shown or explained what abilities it gives him; it's only ever used to identify him as a villain and explain his hatred for machines via a Noodle Incident.
  • Scannable Man: Given that they're in a future dystopia, the Cube prisoners have the requisite bar codes tattooed on the back of the wrist.
  • Shoot the Dog: Meyerhold is infected with a rapidly-progressing, flesh-eating virus. Haskell says they won't abandon him if he tests every room, but throws him into a trapped one at the first opportunity. Rains is angry with him for this, but Haskell is right that he was already a dead man and it was only a matter of time before he would have infected one of them as well if they stayed anywhere near him.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Rains manages to escape, but will continue to be pursued until recaptured. Wynn is lobotomized and thrown back in the Cube like many Cube "Operators" before him. Everybody else dies except for the villains and possibly Rain.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Wynn is prominently shown playing chess with Dodd and beating him at every turn, to show off his advanced mental faculties.
  • Super-Soldier: The government soldiers are implanted with a chip and "reprogrammed" to become the perfect soldier, feeling no pain, getting superhuman strength and obeying orders without question.
  • Surprise Checkmate: Wynn keeps beating Dodd at chess with moves he never anticipated. This is partly explained by Wynn being able to visualize entire chess games mentally.
  • Swallow the Key: Dodd tears out a power coupling to prevent the villains from killing his colleague Wynn and swallows it when their leader Jax confronts him over this. Subverted as Jax sprays paralyzing gas in Dodd's face, then cuts it out of him.
  • Tested on Humans: Unlike the other two movies where the purpose of the Cube is only implied to be this trope, this Cube is specifically stated to be used for testing bacteriological and chemical weapons, with sociological testing also going on behind the scenes.
  • The Theocracy: The omniscient dictatorship controlling the Cube is strongly implied to be a theocracy. "Crimes against country and God" is a notable transgression and anyone who survives the Cube is asked whether they believe in God — if they answer "No" they are incinerated. No one has ever answered "Yes" (possibly implying atheists are sent there as a punishment).
  • Tomato in the Mirror: After Wynn is captured at the end, Jax reveals that Wynn is NOT an employee overseeing the cube. He's just as much a lab rat as the Cube residents, as another layer of the Cube experiment to "observe the observers". So were his colleagues. He can't even choose execution over staying in the cube, as he already waived this right long ago... he simply doesn't remember because the real operators removed this information from his mind.
  • Tranquillizer Dart: The soldiers shoot tranq darts at the escaping prisoners, as their mission is retrieval, not elimination.
  • Unusual User Interface: The advanced programmers from upstairs use an alternate keyboard with the apperance of an oversized exposed circuit board that can be operated with their mechanical gloves to use the Cube's operating systems much more efficiently.
  • The Virus: Another strain of necrotizing faciitis is injected into a character, who, in her death throes, claws at another character, which infects him with the same condition.
  • Where It All Began: According to Word of God this is a prequel, though the futuristic world doesn't quite fit with the contemporary look of the other two films, even given the deliberately vague Worldbuilding.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Jax is initially content to stack the deck against Wynn when he breaks protocol and infiltrates the Cube, but then he gets a call from upstairs and is told to end it immediately. Jax then orders a purge protocol which seals the doors and turns the current room into an electric death trap. Dodd interrupts the main power to save Wynn.
  • Wingdinglish: The Cube computer systems and written orders use both the Latin alphabet and a strange alien one to display English. The characters can read both just fine.
  • World Limited to the Plot: Averted, where the Cube is shown to basically be a last-chance experimentation chamber for death-row prisoners. At least until one of the operators helps someone escape and ends up with a forged "confession" and a lobotomy before getting thrown in himself, with heavy hints throughout that that's basically how everyone ended up in there. Then we find out that what we see in the prequel is basically a first generation prototype compared to the later Cubes, which seem to have less and less of a plausible reason to exist.
  • Your Head Asplode: Meyerhold, courtesy of the Brown Note trap. The rest of his extremities similarly explode and all that's left behind is slightly shredded clothing.
  • You Won't Feel a Thing!: The Cube surgeon at the end falsely assures Wynn that he won't feel anything of the lobotomy they're going to give him. The first thing Wynn does when they cut into his brain is scream out in terror.
  • Zombie Infectee: The Cube controllers use a strain of necrotizing fasciitis to kill one of the prisoners. The woman in question infects someone else by scratching a guy's arm before dying herself. He quickly becomes a liability to the other two remaining group members and is forced to test every room from that point on, but the former soldier throws him into a trapped room before he can infect anyone else.