What is it all about?
In this highly anticipated adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling apocalyptic thriller, John Cusack (1408), Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan) star as one of the few survivors of a murderous epidemic fending off bloodthirsty predators who have been dangerously re-programmed to kill by a mysterious worldwide phone signal.
The Hughes Verdict!
When you have two leading stars like John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson both starring together in a newly released horror that is also an adaption of a Stephen King novel and yet it doesn’t get released to much fanfare, then alarm bells should be ringing for fans everywhere.
After they both starred in the wonderful 1408, which was a brilliant showcase for the acting talent of Cusack, the thought of them both back together in another story from the surreal and ingenious mind of King is a tantalising prospect and I sat down with hope that this film could really deliver in what it was offering with its cast.
Cell, based on the 2006 novel is more or less a zombie film in which our mobile phones has turned us, the human race, into the walking dead. Its a simple but effective premise which starts off quite promising, as Cusack’s Clay Riddell witnesses the start of the Apocalypse while at an airport, having been on the phone to his wife. Humans attacking humans, a Policeman starts munching on a dog, a woman bashing her head on the wall, chaos reigns and the bewildered look on Clay’s face sums the whole concept up.
Like all characters in this kind of situation, Clay decides to venture into the city to rescue his wife, meets up with Tom (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman- yes the little girl from Orphan has all grown up), and what we have is a story that many have seen before. They may be called “phoners,” and have a weirdly surreal noise that makes them sound like an old Fax machine, but these new form of humans are nothing more than Zombies by name and the film becomes a simple road movie with the survival aspect added in.
To be fair to director Tod Williams who directed Paranormal Activity 2, he does succeed in pulling off some very effective scenes, with the opening setting the pace and a brilliant set-piece involving a truck, fire and Stacey Keach, which to be fair is one of the best imagery moments in any King film. Later on a creepy moment involving an Ice Cream truck and a horde of “phoners” is another scene worth mentioning, even though it ends in a WTF moment, which I will get to it in a bit.
The trouble is all the good moment are few and far between as the film becomes a kind of Stephen King meets The Walking Dead, where dialogue is preferred to non stop action and set pieces. Now this may have worked in 1408, but that was because the energy from Cusack carried the film through out, but here it seems there is no “bite” to the proceedings.
I admire the attempt to make a film more “talkative” but you can’t really care deep for the characters we have just been introduced to, especially as the film only runs for just over 90 minutes. Its another case of a story by King that may have served better on the small screen, something the recent 11.22.63 benefited from brilliantly. As a 10 part season arc, you could see Cell’s concept being used to its entire maximum potential, but as a feature film, it lacks the necessary drive to make it entertaining.
Which is a real shame because I love Cusack and Jackson who make a brilliant double act on screen. Both are just two actors that no matter if the film sinks into a lull, you still watch as their screen presence demands it but the material on offer here really does not do them justice. What really should have been a story that showed how our reliance on technology could be our downfall and resulting in our two stars fighting off a bloodthirsty gang of zombies, is instead a film where all the fun has been taking out.
I am only still recovering from the swing of Negan’s bat to watch yet another Zombie serious fest, so I has hoping for a bit of high octane action here, sadly it was non existent. As for that WTF moment I mentioned earlier, well I am talking about the ending which more or less made me want to pick up my own mobile phone, go “baaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh” and chuck it at my TV.
Is the finale that bad? Well….yes! I am sorry, but whatever that was, just went over my head. I like it at times when a film becomes ambiguous and bold, I mean Donnie Darko excelled at it, but here, its clumsy and a mess but truthfully by then, many of you will probably be just glad that you have reached the final credits.
Cell is one of those movies that you knew could have been better. More work needed on the script (which King himself wrote) and some action sequences may have raised the bar a bit, because at times the film feels a bit confused in what it whats to be. A failure to be a satire to what we rely on, a lack of horror and any noticeable tension makes the film become nothing more than flat and in an age where there are load of Zombie material on the big screen and Small, Cell needed to offer something different to entice and enthral the fans out there. A few years back a film called Pontypool done something similar to a much better effect!
Sadly despite a few good scenes, Cell fails to tick all the right boxes and you end up thinking Cusack and Jackson deserve better, damn even King deserves better….as this sadly is no 1408!