Movie Review: Cell (2016)
“When everyone is connected no one is safe!
Director: Tod Williams
Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman
Synopsis: The world as we know it comes to an end when people are turned into homicidal maniacs by a mysterious ‘pulse’ transmitted via their mobile phones.
There’s nothing more infuriating than a movie that squanders its potential, especially when it’s a horror movie written by Stephen King, the world’s biggest selling writer of horror. It’s curious how King, a man who has mastered the craft of populist horror writing, has never really come to grips with the craft of screenwriting in the same genre: Silver Bullet, Maximum Overdrive, Sleepwalkers – his screenwriting back-catalogue is littered with such duds, and now Cell must be added to that list. In fact, Cell is so bad, it barely even deserves a place on it.
The movie, which underwent a long and painful gestation period, is King’s spin on the zombie sub-genre combined with a touch of technophobic horror, and the way that it fails on almost every level imaginable is quite simply staggering. John Cusack (The Paperboy, The Factory) plays Clay Riddell, a graphic artist who is attempting to negotiate a truce with his wife so that he can visit his young son when his flight lands. As he talks to her on a pay-phone in an airport departure lounge, his line of reasoning is derailed by the screams of a man. His screams are joined by those of others and, within seconds, the airport has become a slaughterhouse as bored travellers are instantly transformed into bloodthirsty homicidal maniacs intent on ripping apart all who cross their path. Clay later learns that the abrupt change in the victims isn’t the result of yet another flight delay, but is caused by some strange pulse transmitted through their mobile phones. More through luck than judgement, he manages to dodge the insane killers and escape the airport with the help of train driver Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson – Kingsman: The Secret Service, Barely Lethal). After retreating to Clay’s flat to grab a brief respite from the chaos outside, the two men, together with Clay’s neighbour, Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman – The Hunger Games, After Earth), head for the home of his wife in the hope that she and their son are still alive and sane.
The end of the world as we know it really is too big a subject to be confined to the running time of a motion picture. If it’s to deliver the kind of detail necessary for such a grandiose event it needs plenty of time to establish characters before the trauma hits. Because Cell is only 98 minutes long it has no choice but to pile right in, providing us with the sketchiest of back stories for its lead character and nothing at all for the other characters he encounters. King’s plot has no real focus. We never learn the source of the mysterious pulse, or the intent of who- or whatever transmitted it. Clearly the enslavement of the human race is the objective, but for what purpose? Any attempt at explanation is presented as desultory supposition or speculation by characters who know no more than the audience, and is therefore so muddled as to be of virtually no use. Having the zombie-like creatures develop a flock mentality is an interesting spin on a genre that is growing a little tired after more than a decade of unrelenting popularity, and could have taken the story in all kinds of directions, but again King, and co-writer Adam Alleca, go nowhere with it. And their ambiguous ending – created especially for the movie – shows us just how fine the line is between ambiguity and confusion, and wastes a chilling final shot that does more than the rest of the entire film to illustrate the real horror of the passing of humanity.
(Reviewed 3rd July 2016)