The difference is essentially the object in which they try to escape, a cube that these characters found themselves in. Five characters who dont know each other, dont know why they are there, and have no reasonable exit for the place they find themselves stuck in. Yes, "Cube" is as existential as that. The cube as the metaphor for existence, while the characters ponder in various states of disarray why they were chosen to be there. This would be a highly egocentric point of view to think they were "chosen", would it not? It would appear from their lifes work that they chose, and even designed their lives to be there. Isn't that the metaphor? To be in a cubed room with 6 doors, all of which lead to another room of the same type? When life is running in circles, everything is the same. There are smags and snares that will kill you, but if you know WHAT to be aware of, you can avoid it.
The five characters each have distinct personality traits and skills are utitlized to help them towards an exit. They eventually stumble on math theories based on numbers between doorways. They soon discover that these numbers are equations based on Cartesian geometry that can help one to understatd the design of the entire cube. This eventually only proves to be half right, while the larger scope is to break down a 9 digit number into factorials. If we recall Abbot's "Flatland", we can appreciate this in the sense of perception. That when the world is flat, everything is 2 dimensional. That is what the world of Cartesian geometry implies. To move forward, one needs to begin to think in three-dimensions and understand the whole from all points of view, and not just front/back. Once our young heroine discovers this, she has the ability to know where the exit is.
The film in general is predictable, because the point was less to find out the exit of the cube and more to explore the existential questions of existence. Whether this be through logic, emotion or the senses, the characters begin to unravel and show their own true colors, and their own meanings. Its a sort of logotherapy set in a world by Samuel Beckett.
"Cube" offers many philosphical debates for the viewer who is interested in taking the time to examine its message, but if you are looking for home-spun entertainment, then you will be let down. If not from its heavy-handed philosophy, then by its monotony. I did not like the film entirely because it put the viewer in a double bind: to expect the audience to accept the alien world we are tossed in, yet if you did not enjoy the film because there was nothing to relate to, then you would be missing the point. But I expected that.
This premise would have been at home on the old 'Twilight Zone' series (or even on the original 'Star Trek', with the trapped parties being Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and 'Crewman Green'). And ya don't gotta be Kafka to smell the allegory; at any rate, if _your_ life has never felt like this, you probably won't like the movie.
The execution is very good too. Obviously a film like this requires a small ensemble cast and a script that manages to keep things interesting for an hour and a half even though all the 'action' takes place inside a series of practically identical cubical rooms. It has both. I won't spoil anything here, but there are some genuinely suspenseful moments and there's a lot of excruciating _psychological_ tension. (And not just from claustrophobia.)
I'm knocking off a star just because I just don't think the characters quite gel. They're interesting enough, but they're neither sufficiently complex to keep me fully engaged with them nor sufficiently 'archetypal' to support the allegory. In some respects their characterization occasionally seems inconsistent.
Very cool movie, though, and the slightly weak characterization isn't much of a drawback. It's not at all a 'hopeful' film and the ending won't make you gasp with moral relief; nor will all that many of your questions get answered. But if (like me) you enjoy that sort of movie, you'll especially enjoy this one.