Genre : SF/Horror
Country : USA
John Cusack : Clay Riddell
Samuel L. Jackson : Tom McCourt
Isabelle Fuhrman : Alice Maxwell
Director : Tod Williams
“I thought when you get older, the nightmares go away.
No, they still happen.
They just grow up, too.”
Aren’t you a real Stephen King fan or a zombie fanatic? Best you avoid this film. Something the majority in this movie better had done, when receiving a call. “Cell” is an adaptation of a Stephen King book. And I was eagerly looking forward to this one. Unfortunately I stopped reading halfway the book. Not because it was bad (After all, it’s still a Stephen King book), but due to a lack of time. That’s the biggest drawback when reading a book. You have to have some free time. And that’s just something I don’t have unfortunately. The advantage of a book is that the build-up goes gradually, there’s room for in-depth descriptions and the characters of different personages can be explored in detail. This creates a unique empathy rarely matched by the corresponding film. And that’s exactly where it went wrong in this movie.
It’s as if King is becoming a glitzy, modern version of Jules Verne. He wrote this story more than ten years ago. In those days mobile telephony was already used on a large scale, but it wasn’t as widespread as today. Nowadays an entire generation is hooked to these electronic telecommunication gadgets. I’m convinced that in the evening a majority goes to bed with a sore thumb and exhausted, red eyes. And this because they were sending messages constantly while staring neurotically at the flickering screen of their smartphone. Enter any random public place and you can admire a flock of avid swiping techno junkies.
Clay Riddell (John Cusack), a graphic designer aka fantasy artist, experiences something similar as he arrives at the Boston airport. The only difference is that the digital addicts act rather aggressive. A mysterious signal has transformed all of those who communicated with their mobile phone into a bunch of mouth-foaming, murderous psychopaths. Clay flees headlong and succeeds in escaping from these angry zombies. With the help of train conductor Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson), he manages to get to his apartment. This is the starting point of a survival trip to Kent Pond where he hopes to find his wife and son unharmed. And when the girl next door Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman), who also survived the chaos unscathed (but had a traumatic experience), joins this duo they are off on a road-trip through an apocalyptic society.
My first disappointment was the opening scene that took place at an airport. I rather wished they had used the location from King’s book. Although this setting was perfect to gather a multitude of cellphone users who end up as victims of the so-called pulse. The result is a collection of sometimes hallucinatory images. Such as the security guard who tears apart his four-legged friend. Or that frenzied teenage girl who runs head-on against a wall, with a toothless, bloody smile as a result. And as icing on the cake there’s a destructive plane crash (unfortunately with the use of some lousy-looking special effects). Sadly enough there is not much exciting to see after this beginning. The film looks just like a standard zombie flick afterwards, with some survivors hopping around who are being chased by a horde of frenzied “phoners”. The only thing still worth mentioning is the scene with the football field. Further it’s just a mixture of “The Day” with a sort of “Dark Skies“.
The biggest reason why I wanted to watch it anyway, was on the one hand because it’s a Stephen King story anyway. And on the other hand the cast of course. I readily admit that a collaboration between Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack is a huge incentive. Even though they both played on autopilot and it seemed at times as if it was reluctantly. For once, I want to put the lesser known cast in the spotlights. In particular those who portray the crazed, violent and mentally ill zombies. These aren’t Oscar-worthy performances, but there are some brilliant characters amongst them. For example the eerie-looking cook with his bulging eyes who kills every bystander with his huge kitchen knife. But especially the one who was part of the first wave of zombies marching through the streets. A fairly disturbed type. First laughing manically. And next looking around in amazement. So magnificent that I had to re-watch it four times.
Eventually “Cell” didn’t meet my high expectations. It’s not really exciting. Not for a bit. And as a zombie-like film, it lacks the necessary gore nevertheless. And the precise meaning of this figure “The Night Traveller” also eluded me completely. The end of the movie on the other hand, wasn’t so bad, I thought. It highlights the hopelessness of the whole situation. From what I could read, it’s quite different from the original ending of the book. Oh well, as I said in the beginning, I’ve never read it completely. So I can’t comment on that. As for myself, I’d feel at home in between those brainwashed creatures, because these smartphones drive me nuts just by looking at them. The warning message from King is obvious. But again, this film is proof that there aren’t many adaptations that can match the magic of the written version.