Digital Review: Cell (2016)

Cell DVD CoverDistributor: Signature Entertainment

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: Tod Williams

Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacy Keach

Cell, the latest Stephen King novel adaptation sees John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson reunited on the big screen. This is their second pairing after their Dolphin Hotel roles in 2007’s 1408. Personally I really enjoyed 1408 and was looking forward to Cell; Two powerhouse actors in a modern techno zombie-like movie – what’s not to love? On paper the possibilities were endless so let’s see what happened in actuality.

Like 1408 and almost nearly all King adaptations there are some striking differences between the movie and the book. This is not necessarily a deal breaker provided the movie gives us a coherent script and good characters. The plot is seemingly a simple one – a pulse or charge or something through cell phones scrambles the brains of anyone using them and turns them into rage-fueled killing machines. As the movie goes on we see these zombie-like creatures coalesce into near hive-like mind thinking as they travel in groups and have a hierarchy within their population. This arc of the story seems to work well in the beginning but goes off the rails at the end of the movie.

The main story follows graphic novelist Clay Riddell (John Cusack) struggling to get out of the airport after the pulse hits the cell phones. Meeting up with Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson) and others they head off to a cell phone-free zone called Kaswak. Both Cusack and Jackson turn in very solid performances given what they had to work with. The greatest actors and actresses in the world can turn out fantastic performances but if the script and story aren’t there it just doesn’t translate into a good movie, and this is exactly what happened in Cell.

Surprisingly, Stephen King himself co-wrote the screenplay and even changed the ending because fans hated the ending in the book. For the record I enjoyed the ending in the novel as it was an obtuse ending full of possibilities and horrors, in short a traditional King ending. No need to wrap it up and put a bow on it, audiences can deal with ambiguity. It seems that director Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2/Door in the Floor) brought along Adam Alleca (The Last House on the Left) to rework a screenplay for this production, and in the end we are left with a clunky version of the story that only seemed to grab bits and highlights from the book with no real effort to string them together. We get little or no backstory of the pulse nor are we really allowed to follow the pulse and how it turns people into rage-killing freaks. It is a larger novel and the task to condense and make it a movie is daunting but this movie appears as if the source material was skimmed rather than read.

In our cinematic, zombie-laden world the filmmakers decided to just show a band of people traveling across the US looking for a family member and encountering these zombie-like creatures along the way; there was more to it than this in the novel and as an audience we deserve more than this. If I wanted this I could tune into The Walking Dead anytime or put on a Romero movie and enjoy a master at work. This simply insults the audience in World War Z fashion by taking an otherwise excellent piece of written work, borrowing a few bits and bobs and dropping in a mundane zombie plot-styled story.

Books and movies do not have to agree on all points but the audiences of both deserve a good story and/or movie. The best example of this is King’s The Mist. The movie ending was wildly different than the novella’s ending but if you divorce yourself from the novella the movie is absolutely spectacular in its own right. In Cell, even if we divorce ourselves from the book, we are left with a hodge-podge of events connected only by Jackson and Cusaks’s characters and this connection is tenuous at best. As an audience we deserved a bit more explanation and coherence in this one and we just didn’t get it. We didn’t get it in the middle when it started to drag and we didn’t get it at the end when we needed it. This movie set out with so many possibilities of goodness but fell way short of the mark.

Cell

Special Features: Behind-the-Scenes featurette.

UK Release Date: 17th October 2016

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