ELEVATED: The Short Film That Gave Birth To CUBE

Vincenzo Natali loves locking people up in tight spaces.

We're incredibly excited to partner with Fandor, a streaming service with the biggest handpicked collection of the most-talked-about indie films from around the world. With a catalogue this diverse and provocative, it was both easy and very, very hard to choose a handful of titles to discuss here on BMD.

Back when Blockbuster Video (and its half-wit cousin, Hollywood Video) were still a thing, my then-girlfriend and I came up with a game called "Movie Roulette". The rules were simple: we'd agree on a genre, head to that section, and rent the first thing that caught our eye. Maybe the cover box featured a particularly compelling bit of artwork (hello, Chopping Mall!); maybe we were looking to scratch a so-bad-it's-good itch, and a film's cast all but guaranteed such an experience (ahem). At the end of the day, the selection process was arbitrary. Sure, most of our choices turned out to be disastrous...but every once in a while, we'd stumble across something great. That's what made the game fun.

And this is how Cube came into my life.

I don't recall what it was that convinced us to rent Cube, but I remember being absolutely delighted the first time I saw it. Everything about it was on my wavelength: the weirdness of the premise, the over-the-top viciousness of the traps, the ingenuity of the set design, that borderline-ridiculous ending. It was definitely rough around the edges, but for me, the good far outweighed the bad. I'd never heard of the guy who wrote and directed the film - a guy by the name of Vincenzo Natali - but I made a mental note to keep my eyes peeled going forward. I was curious to see what the guy would do next.

In the years since, Natali's been involved in a number of interesting projects. He worked as a storyboard artist on Ginger Snaps, directed a few just-okay genre efforts (2002's Cypher, 2003's Nothing), and, in 2009, he delivered one of the all-time weirdest sci-fi films ever to be given a wide release: Splice (that's the one where Adrien Brody grows a genetic hybrid in a lab and then fucks it). Most recently, he contributed a segment to Drafthouse Films' ABC's Of Death 2 ("U Is For Utopia") and directed half a dozen excellent episodes of NBC's dearly-departed Hannibal. All things considered, he's had a decent career. Natali's never quite found mainstream success, but his work is generally interesting.  

Anyway, earlier this week I was poking around on Fandor, seeing what I could see, when I came across a short film Natali directed by the name of Elevated. Somehow, I'd never seen this short, and  - given Natali's past efforts - I was intrigued by the premise: "A routine elevator ride becomes a living hell for its three trapped passengers." Because I'm always up for giving new Natali stuff a whirl, I checked it out.

As promised, Elevated takes place almost entirely within an elevator. Ellen (Vickie Papavs) gets onboard, presses the button for the lobby, and is intercepted several floors down by another rider, Ben (Bruce McFee). Right off the bat, there's something about the guy that puts her on edge - he stands behind her, he breathes a little too heavily - and just as she's about to jump ship and take the stairs, another guy, Hank (Cube's David Hewlett), bursts in. He's covered in blood, raving about some type of creature ("Have you seen Pumpkinhead? No, too obscure. How about Alien? It looks like the thing from Alien!") that's going on a rampage within the building. Ellen and Ben don't know what to think, but Hank's got a knife, and he insists they follow his lead.

At its heart, Elevated's one of those "Is he crazy, or is he telling the truth?" tales, and it ends in not entirely satisfying Twilight Zone twist (I'll leave the outcome for you to discover). Taken on its own, it's a decent short, but nothing to get excited about. But taken in the context of Cube, it becomes a bit more interesting; not a proto-Cube, per se, but the short does contain a bunch of that film's DNA. The inclusion of Hewlett, for one thing, playing a similarly smug/frenzied character. Or the premise, which - like Cube - involves a group of strangers trapped within a confined space, trying to decide how best to escape. There's even a moment where one character learns another character's name by reading the embroidered patch on his work shirt (it even looks like the ones in Cube)! 

While Elevated didn't blow me away, it left me curious, and I did a little digging. Turns out, it was co-written by Karen Walton (who later wrote Ginger Snaps) and produced (via the Canadian Film Centre) shortly after Natali finished writing the script for Cube. The intention, of course, was to give potential investors an idea what Cube might look like in practice. There's no telling if it helped him pull funding together, of course, but he did find funding, and Cube did end up looking and feeling a bit like Elevated

If you're interested, you can watch Elevated a number of ways. For starters, I'm told that some copies of the Cube DVD feature the short as an extra. But assuming you don't have one of those on hand, Elevated's been uploaded to YouTube. The quality's kind of shit on that version, though, so I'd recommend checking it out via Fandor if you've got an account (and, by the way, if you don't already have a Fandor account, you should really consider giving the service a shot; there's a ton of interesting/obscure titles on there). It's not mandatory viewing by any stretch of the imagination, but if, like me, you consider yourself a big fan of Natali's Cube, you'll probably get a kick out of it. 

By the way: am I alone in my Cube love, or are you guys onboard with it?

Fandor makes it easy for you to find the right film to watch. With the biggest handpicked collection of the most-talked-about indie films from around the world, there’s always something great to watch, whatever your mood, on almost any device.