Directed by Tod Williams
Starring John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Clark Sarullo, Ethan Andrew Casto, Owen Teague, Stacy Keach
When a mysterious cell phone signal causes apocalyptic chaos, an artist is determined to reunite with his young son in New England.
Although Steven King is often hailed as the greatest horror author of all-time, he’s not had the best track record of adapting his own work. While it worked wonders with Pet Cemetery, Maximum Overdrive is fantastic for all the wrong reasons and the less said about his TV version of The Shining the better. However his novels have proven time and time again to be great commodities for adaptation (Carrie, The Shining, The Mist, Children of the Corn, The Running Man, etc), and Cell had every chance of being no different.
John Cusack stars as Clay, a comic book artist who is heading back home to his estranged wife and child when a signal sent through mobile phones re-programs people’s minds into rabid creatures. While trying to survive the onslaught, he encounters the quiet Tom (Samuel L. Jackson) and young Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman) and the trio set off looking for survivors.
Prior to director Tod Williams taking over, Eli Roth was set to adapt King’s novel in 2009 and one wonders how Cell would have fared under his direction. As it stands, Williams’ Cell is rather drab in its style and never pushes any visual boundaries to the zombie genre. With seemingly a hundred zombie movies released every couple of months, it’s hard to do something new with the genre but its seems like Williams isn’t even trying. What he does do, however, is put together some fairly effective chase sequences without an over-reliance on jump scares. They’re hardly original, but Williams does do a pretty decent job in ramping tension.
Where Cell falls apart though is in its story. In that typical King way, Cell drops you into a scenario of terror and doesn’t give a lot of information – allowing you as an audience member – to work things out along with the characters. The problem arises, however, when the story and its structure aren’t entirely satisfactory. King cleverly mirrors mankind’s obsession with mobile phones and how they’re connecting us as one massive brain-hive, but it doesn’t build upon it. In fact, it doesn’t even attempt to build on it. Cell features some really interesting ideas that just aren’t expanded upon, therefore leaving the film rather limp. Not only that but it introduces a bizarre riddle involving Clay’s comic book and the infection that has no resolution, just leaving the ending confused. As the credits roll, you may find yourself turning to a friend and asking, ‘did you get that?’
Cell has been panned in the press since its limited release (it currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 0%) but it really isn’t all that bad. The acting from Cusack and Jackson is of a standard you would expect, in that even when they’re not trying they’re very watchable, and this allows for Fuhrman to take over and shine. Her subtle pain of the horrors she’s survived so far is really impressive and she raises the acting game above ‘showing up’. And while some have criticised Cell for looking cheap, one wonders if that was the intent. Williams paints with a very bland palette and it adds to the apocalyptic vibe of its story.
But even with some decent performances and half-decent chase sequences, Cell is let down by its uneven story. King says he re-wrote the ending of the book to appease the fans who didn’t like the book’s climax, but this isn’t much better. Cell features some really interesting ideas and concepts, but is let down at script level. A real shame.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.