horror, post-apocalyptic, thriller
Writer: Adam Alleca
Director: Tod Williams
Main Cast: John Cusack as Clay, Samuel L. Jackson as Tom, and Isabelle Fuhrman as Alice
Based off of Stephen King’s bestselling novel of the same name, a man in search of his family comes across an unlikely group of misfits while the rest of the world has turned into hivemind ‘zombies’ controlled by cellular devices.
I’m going to let you all in on a few fun facts about myself before diving into this review. First off, I have seen every single film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novels except for the 1990 miniseries It. I also want to mention that Cell is the first full-length Stephen King novel that I had ever read, other than his anthology collections. Lastly, I would like to confess that I am not an avid reader, other than comic books, graphic novels and short stories. However, I have read Stephen King more than any other author. This is actually the first novel-to-film adaptation where I have actually read the book before watching the movie. I just absolutely love his books. Me and the rest of the world, right?
Normally I’m not one to judge a movie based on the opening credits, but holy hell were these especially awful. They honestly looked like there were rendered in Windows Movie Maker, consisting of big black blocks obscuring part of the opening scene with plain white text in the center, shifting screen location and alignment with each credit. I couldn’t even focus on what was happening because these eyesores were taking up the bulk of the screen. Just awful. Despite this, I kept telling myself that the opening credits do not necessarily indicate the quality of a film, but unfortunately, for the most part, it foretold what I was in for while watching.
Less than ten minutes in, people start turning into zombie-like ‘phoners’, a dog dies, and there is copious amounts of blood, gore, and people ripping each other to shreds. I’m glad they didn’t drag things out, as this immediate jump into the action was actually fairly novel-accurate and things literally start to go down a few pages into the book. In fact, a lot of the scenes that you see within the opening airport scene were quite accurate, with an analogue ‘white noise’ sound coming through cell phones wiping unlucky call recipients to a primitive blank slate of a person. You see everything Stephen King described about the phoners and their actions on-screen, which I was a huge fan of. I haven’t read the book for many years, and this scene captured the exact way I remembered and imagined it. There was several scenes like this throughout the movie that resembled accurate or similar depictions of the novel’s imagery. Oftentimes details like cause of death or locations of important events were tweaked slightly, but the general outline remained the same. It was a breath of fresh air to watch how accurate this film often was to the book, because not often does that happen. Unfortunately, although accurate, it was often very disappointing at the same time due to poor camera-work and directing. I found the terrible camera angles, over-dark lighting and rushed unnatural acting really disorienting at times. I don’t feel this was completely the actors’ faults. Although they did have their fair share of acting missteps, they did an okay job with what they had to work with. This films stars the ‘1408 crew’ of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson with Isabelle Fuhrmann from Orphan as the female lead, so that’s a bit of a weird horror acting combination. For me, I haven’t really seen Isabelle Fuhrmann in much else and in all honesty I didn’t love 1408 -- and that’s being generous.
I’m not sure how I feel about the ‘zombies’ in this movie. Not only are they very generic-looking, they also all look very similar to each other with similar average/fit body sizes and ‘I’m an extra in a movie’ haircuts. This isn’t very diverse for what you would actually see in a zombie apocalypse. However, seeing them move robotically in packs was very interesting to watch and terrifying in its own way. I also enjoy that they are fast-moving and quick -- the thought of being in that sort of situation is much more terrifying to me than your average slow-moving zombie. I do have an appreciation for slow zombies artistically as they are much more menacing, but it just doesn’t work in a real-life situation.
The movie itself is pretty generic -- not necessarily as a zombie flick, but as a typical trope-filled horror movie. The way it was shot, the camera angles, the use of light and shadows... it was all very basic. There wasn’t much special to make it stand out amongst other horror movies. What I did really enjoy was the grotesque scenes in regards to the phoners. Lots of blood, lots of gore, lots of broken bones -- all the things that make a girl happy. Seriously, they were so creepy. One thing that makes Cell unique is that the ‘zombies’ advance and evolve mentally as a hive as the film goes on, which is something I have never seen before on-screen. Perhaps the creepiest thing about them was when they would all drop their jaws simultaneously and emit a half-screech, half-’white noise’ tone. It was absolutely brilliant and downright creepy to watch. I do have a question for you, the reader, though: while watching this film I got to thinking… do zombies ever use the washroom? Do they just defecate themselves? I haven’t ever seen this topic explored or mentioned in a horror film before, and I think it’s something of importance. Not only do they smell of decay and rotting flesh, I feel they would probably also smell of hours, days, weeks, months worth of shit. Can you imagine? Cannibal dead people shit has to be a thousand times worse than anything a living person could expel. Real talk with Channy Dreadful.
Y’know, overall this movie was okay; no better or worse than your average new-age horror film. I don’t quite understand why it struggled so long in development hell to get distribution. It was a lot more enjoyable than other recent films that have cropped up lately like Anabelle or Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension, and much better than the garbage of a movie that was Insidious 3. I’m not entirely sure why this movie, a fairly accurate depiction of an amazing Stephen King novel, had more trouble than any of those movies to get distribution. I just can’t wrap my head around it. That being said, I think this movie is barely worth your time over more well-made films, and I would only watch it if you are a fan of the novel. If you haven’t read it, I’m not sure you’d enjoy it whatsoever. I had a lot of problems with it, and I really hope the Trololo Song (Editor’s Note: Channy is referring to “Я очень рад, ведь я, наконец, возвращаюсь домой” - “I am Very Glad ‘cause I’m Finally Returning Home” by Eduard Khil) doesn’t become a frequent horror staple. It was strange enough hearing it in one horror movie already, and it’s very hard to take a movie seriously while that song is playing. The finale of the movie was changed to improve the book’s ‘fizzle-out’ ending. For anyone who has read the novel, we can all admit that any end would be better than the original -- but this one was probably unfortunately on par, albeit in a different direction.
Overall, I rate this movie a 4.5/10. The only reason it ranks higher than a 4 is because I enjoyed the practical effects and how accurate it was to the novel -- for the first ¾, at least. Maybe next time, I’ll answer my phone during the movie.