‘Cube’ Director Vincenzo Natali Explains Why He Didn’t Want An American Director for ‘Cube’ (2023)
When Vincenzo Natali released his feature film debut Cube, he had no idea how the film would go on to shape the horror genre. A small group of seemingly unrelated people is trapped in a strange metal cube with rooms full of deadly traps. It’s a simple enough premise, but it’s executed beautifully and plays into a deep sense of existential dread. It undoubtedly influenced James Wan and Leigh Whannell when they created their own world of twisted and deadly puzzles in Saw.
Now, SCREAMBOX has released the Japanese remake of Natali’s film from director Yasuhiko Shimizu. This new interpretation of the horror classic takes a new perspective on the existential terrors of the titular cube.
Dread Central spoke with Natali about how why he didn’t want an American remake of the film, his work on Hannibal, and more.
Dread Central: So you served as Creative Advisor on this remake of Cube, correct?
Vincenzo Natali: I’m not sure! I know what I did, which is very little. I really stayed out of the way. I must say I was involved in choosing Yasuhiko Shimizu, the director, who I really like a lot and I think did a terrific job. And I contributed one trap to the end of the movie. But other than that, I really was most interested in the film being its own movie and completely apart from my film.
DC: How did this process work in coming to you and saying, ‘Hey, they’re going to make a Japanese remake of your film’?
VN: Well, I know the Japanese producers, who are friends of mine. This had been in the works for a long time and I really wanted to support them. I was very intrigued by the possibility of a Japanese remake of Cube, much more so than an American film. An American remake to me would be, I pity the poor people that have to do that because it will invariably go through a studio filter and they’ll never have the freedom that I had when I made my film, which was essentially done in film school. And I was permitted to do things that I think are verboten in the studio space. Whereas a Japanese remake, even if they tried, they would not be able to imitate my film.
I knew that would go through a cultural filter that would invariably make it become something unique, which is always what I want when I see a remake. The last thing I would want is for my film to get a Gus Van Sant’s Psycho treatment. So I think it’s really interesting to see what Shimizu-san did and how it is very distinctly Japanese and very much about Japan at this moment.
DC: Were you presented with like a list of directors? How did you gravitate toward Shimizu? What about his aesthetic and his directing style attracted you to him as the person to direct Cube?
VN: He did a very interesting film called Vise that you’ll probably love if you see it. You’ll know why I liked it when you see it. <laugh> It’s totally crazy and perverted and poetic.
DC: That’s exactly what I love. <laugh>
VN: You’re gonna like it, it’s all about the culture of beauty in the modern age and, but as a horror film. It’s very thoughtful, very precisely composed. I lobbied hard for him. To be honest, initially, it was supposed to be an American director. I was like, ‘I don’t want an American director’ for all the reasons said, previously said. So I was really happy that Shimizu directed Cube and I thought he did a beautiful job.
DC: In making Cube in 1997, did you have any inkling or feeling that it would ever have this much of an impact on the horror genre?
VN: No, no, no. Of course not. <laugh> I made this film with all my friends who I made my super eight films with growing up. It was kind of a homemade movie. And you know, it killed me. It almost killed me, I should say. But it was made in this kind of under-the-radar way. We’ve never had those expectations. Having said that, I must say I knew it was a special idea.
I have always said, I felt like writing Cube was more like archeology. Like we had stumbled on something special that already existed and we were just exhuming it from the sands of time. It had this sort of monolithic, archetypal feeling to it. I know science fiction and horror movies and I know when something is original and this was original. Again, I feel like it was something I stumbled on more than anything else. So, I knew it was special, but I didn’t necessarily think anyone else would.
DC: Was there anything that you from making Cube, that you imparted upon the team, especially Shimizu about what to avoid/any advice in making his version of the film?
VN: <laugh> Other than saying don’t do it? <laugh> Shooting in a cube is horrendous. It’s a horrible thing to do. I’d never wish it on my worst enemy because it’s literally a pressure cooker. It’s such a small space. And you know what it’s like when working with a film crew, they take up a lot of room and it’s not an easy space to work around. Ironically, you would think that shooting in a large space would be hard. You know, like an auditorium or an airport would be difficult to shoot in. Actually, that’s much, much easier because you have room to move around.
The worst spaces to shoot in, which is why I’m such an idiot for consistently doing this to myself <laugh> are small spaces and a cube. And the cube is the worst. The cub has no props. It has no set deck. It’s just an empty space. It’s a hard space to make interesting visually aside from just being difficult to shoot in. And this is a hard place to light, it’s a nightmare for a cinematographer. <laugh> So really what I should have done, because I like Shimizu-san, is just say, ‘Don’t do this by God. This is a mistake. Stay away from it.’ But I didn’t, I let him suffer.
DC: You’ve also directed a lot of TV. What do you like about directing TV versus film?
VN: I started doing TV purely for mercenary reasons, just to survive because it was getting really hard, for me anyway, to make movies. So I did it, you know, as a journeyman. I ended up finding it totally creatively rejuvenating. It was sort of exciting to work on somebody else’s material because I always would work on my own things or scripts that were written by people that I was very close to. To step into something that wasn’t mine and, oddly enough, to not take ownership over something was somehow freeing. Actually, I think it opened me up to trying different things that I might not do with my own material, and be maybe a little more adventurous. That combined with the fact that I happened to work with some amazing showrunners on really great shows like Hannibal, which still remains one of my favorite experiences.
DC: I love to hear that, it’s such a good show.
VN: Brian Fuller is brilliant, and it was a very special time. I don’t think it’ll ever be recreated. I sort of stumbled into it and it actually saved me on a number of levels, not just financially. <laugh> So yeah, it’s great. It’s changing now. I feel like the halcyon days have passed us by, not to say that there isn’t great stuff coming. But there was a time when [TV] was a little bit untethered from the usual oversight that one has on these things. There weren’t a lot of overlords making sure that everything would appeal to four quadrants.
When I was growing up, TV didn’t challenge you. TV was the thing that you watched when you wanted to shut off your brain. Movies were what you wanted to watch when you wanted to be stimulated and challenged. Then oddly, it felt like at that time, around 2010, it reversed and movies started to be kind of the opioid of the masses. And then television was the thing that was groundbreaking. So it’s odd. I’m still trying to find my feet. Nothing makes sense to be anymore <laugh>.
DC: Going back to Cube, you talked about Japanese culture filtering the film into a new perspective. What, to you, is so fascinating about J horror and Japanese horror? Why do you think that was such a good place to put this film in, especially in 2023?
VN: I am a fan of Japanese horror I think because they’re not Judeo-Christian. <laugh> The Japanese have a very different relationship with horror than we do in the West. They have the moralistic restrictions that we have as a society, and they are much more open to moral ambiguity. I think they’ll go further than us <laugh>. I don’t think they’re afraid. And I think that their perception of life, what’s alive and what’s not alive, is very ambiguous. The value of life to them and what life means is very different than what we [in the West] assign to it.
I guess what I’m saying is they will go to places that Western Horror never would dream of going. And then there is just an inherent sophistication to it because these stories have existed for such a long time in various incarnations. When you look at a movie like Onibaba, which was very influential in my last film, it completely stands up. It’s sort of timeless, you know? Aesthetically so immaculate and beautifully conceived. So when we did Cube oh so many years ago, we thought that two countries that are gonna understand this movie, the two cultures that’ll get it will probably be Russia and Japan. And that somewhat turned out to be the case.