a critiQal film review Cell (2016)

Plot: At the Boston airport, Clay (Cusack) witnesses a scene of chaotic mayhem when an electronic signal turns hundreds of cell phone users into rabid killers. Desperate to find his estranged wife and son, Clay teams with a train driver (Jackson) to battle the horde of murderous “phoners” as the city descends into apocalyptic madness.

622 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 6s)

Since Carmella and I are both big Stephen King fans, we always want to check out the movie adaptations based on his novels. While we waited to check out The Dark Tower (2017) (and the remake, It (2017)), we figured it was a good time to check out Cell.

So, would Cell be worth our while? Or did this one belong on the scrap heap of bad adaptations?

John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson team up for another film based on King’s work in Cell. After their previous effort, 1408 (2007), it seemed like the two of them would make a good pair. And, for the most part, they did. Cusack and Jackson work well together, and both provide solid performances in Cell. True, they don’t seem to be quite as inspired as they were for 1408 (2007), but still, they do continue to work well together anyway.

The supporting cast isn’t half bad either. Isabelle Fuhrman is a surprise as Cusack’s neighbor. Stacy Keach, as usual, provides a decent – if short – performance as well. The rest of the supporting actors don’t really have that much to do, and even the tag-along kid is mostly just background noise in Cell.

As expected, Cell has a solid plot. With King’s work behind it, it’s hard for the film adaptations not to suck in the viewer, and this film proves no exception. The plot of the novel works well on-screen, and the techno-fear seen in extremis in films like The Terminator (1984) works well on a smaller, more focused scale: cell phones. With so many people seemingly constantly attached to their cell phones, the “pulse” of the film is definitely a scary terrorist possibility. While Stephen King dives more into supernatural horror, rather than more down-to-earth terrorist plots, the way the “pulse” could screw up society on a grand scale is still relevantly frightening. It’s definitely something that will capture the viewer’s imagination, and set it running wild.

As with most mid-level horror flicks, there are a couple of boogeyman hiding behind doors. What makes Cell different, however, is it isn’t as fast-paced as most horror flicks. Instead, the main characters spend a lot of time traversing the countryside by foot. It definitely slows down the pace, giving the film more of a chance to instill dread in the viewer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take real advantage of that.

Cell seems to take a couple of sequences from the novel and translate them to the small screen, giving viewers the gist but without delving into the dread factor. This is unfortunate, and other sequences (such as more of the town they travel to, for example) – so memorable from the novel – are skipped over almost entirely. It’s too bad, and the viewer may feel like they are getting the Cliffs Notes version of the novel.

While the novel is a page-turner, the film adaptation really leaves a lot to be desired. While the cast is solid (and some of the supporting cast is outstanding), the skimping on detail and leaving out many of the more memorable sequences from the book, really turn Cell into nothing more than a middle-of-the-road supernatural horror flick. It’s not bad, but the viewer may finish the film feeling like something is missing. Of course, the novel’s memorable moments seem like the culprit, but that’s not it. The director just didn’t quite know how to build up the tension. Like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Cell feels like it’s just snippets of the book pasted together, without any sense of continuity or purpose.

It’s too bad – Cell really could have been so much more. Even if you don’t enjoy the film, make sure to check out the book when you get a chance.

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