DIRECTOR: Tod Williams
Samuel L. Jackson
Erin Elizabeth Burns
Ethan Andrew Casto
When artist Clay Riddell is about to board his plane to go and visit his young son. An eerie and mysterious mobile signal pulsates around the world that causes worldwide devastation and mass casualties. Those who end up surviving the strange signal are left to fight for their lives in a post-apocalyptic world and those who haven't end up reanimating into vicious killing machines. A small group of survivors bands together to try to stop the transmission of the signal.
I remember reading the Stephen King novel about a decade ago. I had loved the novel when I first read it. It was one of those books that while I was reading it, I imagined how it would look on the big screen. It felt vast in scale and apocalyptic. Stephen King's storytelling felt cinematic and jumped off the page. So I had hoped that one day, we would eventually get a film adaptation that translated well to the screen. We all know that movies based on Stephen King stories don't always make the transition to screen very well.
In the same year that the novel was released. I remember hearing the news that Eli Roth was set to direct a movie adaptation and as quick as it was announced, he made it public that he would no longer direct due to creative differences. While not exactly known, I believe this came down to the fact that the movie was being funded by the horrible Weinstein Company who are known for editing their films down for their own tastes. I was left disappointed by the news. I thought Eli Roth could have really done something with the element of survival in a post-apocalyptic world.
Two years after the novel was released, I went and witnessed M. Night Shyamalan's much-maligned film The Happening. The opening scene of that movie felt very similar to the opening of Cell. Only the opening didn't involve a mass violent attack and was instead groups of people committing suicide. I felt like both were very similar in their opening scenes. We all know how The Happening turned out. I thought this may be the closest I came to seeing a version of Cell even though both were not connected.
Let's cut to 2014 when the film finally secured a cast, director and finished its post-production. Two years of studio woes and funding falling through to actually release the film. We suddenly get a new trailer and a release date for 2016. Once I witnessed the first trailer, I was worried. The trailer left me cold and what I didn't get from the trailer was scary and apocalyptic. Instead, I got a movie that looked unintentionally funny that took itself way too seriously, just like The Happening. All anticipation and hype that I once had for the movie were lost entirely.
Where does this movie go wrong? Let me count the ways. After the opening scene, we have a ninety-minute movie that shows our characters moving from one horrific situation to another without any real connection or character development. We merely have our characters meet new groups of survivors, they turn on our people, and our team of characters kill them. This is literally the movie for an hour and a half. Minus the explosive opening, the movie is ninety minutes of characters walking around that are bookended by two big explosive set-pieces.
The ending scene is also one of the most tired and overused twists that I think I've seen in the horror genre. [SPOILERS] The quick heroic end where you believe that the character has made it out of this horrible situation only to have it revealed that he's either now dead or he's one of the bad guys. I know the ending of the book left it open-ended, but the conclusion felt tired and rather silly. It felt like it was trying to be smart and was anything but. A swing and miss for the movie.
The most significant drawback for me was the 'Phoners' who are basically just 28 Days Later 'Rage Virus' zombie-like creatures without any of the fear factor. The threat of these zombies is lost almost instantly when you see them all collectively open their mouths to transmit the signal. It's not scary but instead comes across as unintentionally hilarious. The entire movie feels like one long, hilarious joke that is played completely serious, and no one has let the whole cast or crew in on that joke.
I feel saddest for John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson who were both brilliant, insane and creepy in another Stephen King adaptation 1408. That movie was twisted and brilliant. I think the first intention from probably both actors was to recapture that winning formula. However, both actors have made it clear that they were shut out of the final edits of the film. So studio interference may have played a massive part in the way the characters were written and developed over the course of the production. Both have seen much better days.
Lastly, Cell is a poorly filmed movie. A lot of quick shots, tons of shaky cam, and the horrible visual effects make this movie look really cheap. The big plane explosion at the beginning is comical as is the horde of zombies just slowly pacing around a cell phone tower in the end. How about an entire football field full of snoozing zombies being run over by a petrol truck? I think the production woes and funding issues may be the reason less was done with the effects work as it really shows in the film.
DEATH TOLL: 32 (Estimated)
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A dog is seen being mauled by a human.
- Self-inflicted trauma of head being bashed against a wall.
- A snow-globe is used to bash in someone's skull.
- People are shot and stabbed repeatedly.
- Someone has their head smashed in with a baseball bat.
- Someone is hit in the stomach with an axe.
- A person breaks their leg and still tries to run on it.
- Tons of sleeping people are run over by a truck.
- An entire football field of people is set on fire while alive.
- Someone is impaled by a chunk of metal.
- Someone is shot in the head.
- Hundreds and thousands of people are blown up.
Cell is probably my least favourite Stephen King film adaptation since Riding The Bullet back in 2004, and it's also one of the worst films of 2016. The movie is an unintentionally hilarious companion piece to The Wicker Man remake and M. Night's The Happening. Three movies that had the intention of being scary horror films and are played entirely straight but fail on every level. Could Cell win comedy of the year? This film is certainly in with a shot.