Review: Cell

cell-main2When a mysterious cell phone signal causes apocalyptic chaos, an artist is determined to reunite with his young son in New England.

The second film on the opening night of Frightfest 2016 unfortunately ended up being what we all feared it would be; poorly made and really quite shocking. When it was first announced that another Stephen King adaptation was being made critics and film lovers alike all got quite excited because usually these film adaptations are well-executed with strong casts and directors. When we then learnt that it would have John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson re-teaming after their first Stephen King collaboration on 2007’s 1408, we had even higher hopes. However as audiences began watching it and the reviews surfaced it was clear that this was actually a bit of a mess and I can now agree to that.

There is an intriguing idea at its core at least. When a strange mobile phone signal causes mass chaos and a zombie apocalypse, artist Clay Riddell (John Cusack) is adamant to get back to New England to reunite with his wife and young son. Along the way he meets with fellow survivors including Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alice Maxwell (Isabelle Fuhrman) and they decide to travel with him. From there it’s pretty much shaky cam central and average zombie chases until its rather terrible last scene.

As you can expect with a film like this it’s mostly the direction and the effects which really let it down. You can hardly see what’s going on most of the time because there is so much headache-inducing shaky camerawork (an element that featured in a lot of the films at the festival) that’s so fast and intense it’s hard to engage in the action. The explosions and especially the CGI fire are so bad that you can’t help but laugh not to mention the overused, unpleasant screeching noise the zombies give off which – although part of the story – is just plain irritating.

The acting is all fine but the actors are merely doing what they can when working with a poor script and poor filmmaking. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are so much better than this and although they give solid performances you can tell towards the end even they know how terrible this film is. Orphan’s Isabelle Fuhrman also gives a strong performance but again, doesn’t really have that much to work with. All this isn’t to say that there isn’t something to get out of the film. It’s a case of it’s so bad it’s hilarious. Some of the zombie effects are funny and without giving too much away, the last shot is highly entertaining. The film has a good concept but unfortunately it gets lost with bad effects and a rushed story along the way.

Cell is the new film from the director of Paranormal Activity 2 and stars two large Hollywood stars – John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson, based on the Steven King novel of the same name, and it also manages to annoyingly stumble pretty much after leaving the gate.

Admittedly feature length King adaptations are a somewhat mixed bag, with his horror stories not always translating successfully to the big screen. Mainly due to the loss of Kings knack for creating suspense and horrifying scenes so descriptively on paper. This being said the storyline of Cell as a starting point isn’t his strongest work – a technology kissed zombie apocalypse road trip.

Opening in an airport lounge the film wasted no time in kicking the ‘outbreak’ off. There are some impressive practical stunts and also a Lloyd Kaufman cameo (no clue). Unfortunately it takes about 15 minutes until the film starts to lose its pace and the merry band are on their way to find Cusack’s family – who he had walked out on and not cared about for a year (film logic).

For the rest of the film it seems to bounce from ok faire to bad and back to ok repeatedly – At points kissing the edge of ‘so bad its good’ notably for moments such as the zombie carrying and eating a catering sized jar of mayonnaise for no reason whatsoever. Throughout I kept finding myself enjoying and getting frustrated by the plot. Yes the communicating zombies is a kind of neat idea – and the bar scenes later in the film are nice fun scene.

But weak source material and some sketchy CGI aside. Cell has one big problem, and its name is John Cusack. As much as I like Cusack in 1408 and Being John Malkovich he’s is horribly mis-cast in this roll. He’s too forlorn and moping to be believable strained relationship father who’s trying to make amends being a white knight after walking out. At every turn he seems to give the motivation and determination of a 1990s sitcom teenage goth.

Its a shame as a different actor in the lead role and this could have been a much much stronger movie. Would I watch again – possibly… but I wouldn’t go looking for it.

Cell is out on On-demand now and on Blu-Ray from the 17th October. 




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