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“Saw Is A Cube Ripoff (& It’s Worse)”

Cube is a 1997 Canadian horror film that most people haven’t even heard of. Saw, on the other hand, is a wildly successful horror franchise that draws from a lot of what was great about Cube, but doesn’t pull it off as well.

While many praised Saw for its originality – and in many ways, it was quite original – Cube did it first. Directed by Vincenzo Natali, Cube is more of a science-fiction horror film that the gory, gritty depths of the Saw franchise, but its premise revolves around a similar setting that finds a group of strangers trapped together in a strange cube. Inside the Cube, those trapped learn the hard way that very little can be trusted, as many aspects of the cube are rigged with lethal tricks and traps. Saw began with two men trapped together inside a bathroom with little information as to how they got there or why, but Cube focuses more on the strangers working together in spite of not knowing why they’ve been chosen to participate in the nightmarish puzzle and working out their relative strengths and weaknesses to find clues as to how they can all escape.

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Cube inspired only two other films, a sequel and a prequel, but Saw will see its ninth installment release May 15, 2020. Saw first debuted in 2004, two years after Cube‘s sequel, Cube 2: Hypercube and the same year as it’s final installment, Cube Zero. There was talk of another movie within the Cube franchise, but pre-production stalled as of 2015, and there’s been no news of it being picked up since.

While many audiences loved Saw‘s commitment to blood, gore, and excessive violence, part of what made Cube the better movie was its solid roots in both sci-fi elements and horror. This has worked for the genre for years, all the way back to when Ridley Scott premiered Alien in 1979 and introduced audiences to the horrors of space. Movies like Event Horizon have also explored these pitfalls, and this collaboration has been successful even before, when films like The Fly and Spider Baby were being made in the 50s and 60s. While Saw and films like Eli Roth’s Hostel brought “torture porn” to horror fans in the early 2000s, Cube‘s biggest asset was its restraint. Cube had violence and blood enough to satisfy horror fans, but it was so much more than that: it was smart.

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Saw put an emphasis on interesting traps over likable characters, but Cube tried to create an environment where everyone had value and needed to work together in order to escape. In the Saw franchise, the people who are inside Jigsaw’s traps are criminals, drug addicts, and other people who he has singularly deemed must be punished, as they don’t value their lives. With Cube, it’s less important to know the mind behind the madness, and more important to stay present in the moment with the would-be survivors as they try to use math and logic to work their way out. There’s no willful hacking off of limbs here: it’s about outsmarting a near-impossible puzzle that has been created by someone mysterious, likely for their own enjoyment.

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Beyond that, the Cube’s design is genius. In the movie, the strangers figure out that there are 17,576 rooms in the Cube, and suspect that rooms marked with prime numbers contain traps. Part of the Cube involves Cartesian coordinates, some rooms are sound-activated, others are motion-activated, and some have trap doors. One of the strangers is a math genius, and another a savant who is able to do complex prime factorizations to work out the powers of prime numbers – which is key – in order to figure out how they can travel safely throughout the structure. Essentially, they’re all just rats in a maze, and while Cube lacks the potent social messaging of Saw as well as its grotesque elements, it’s an enjoyable thrill ride that deserves more acclaim.

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