THE CELL (2000) ****1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

Looking for a teen/slasher/horror movie to end your summer, movie-going experience? This isn’t it. Instead of going for the usual, “killer in a mask” flick or a serial killer thriller, try this unique movie on for size. “The Cell” will definitely stimulate the most jaded of imaginations, while still causing moviegoers to leave the theater with that creepy, horror-movie feeling.

Jennifer Lopez stars as child psychologist, Catharine Deane. Employed by a company that has developed an experimental, dream therapy technique, Deane enters the mind of a young, comatose boy in an effort to bring him back into consciousness. After failed attempts and a threatened cancellation of the project, the FBI approaches Deane with an emergency. They convince her to enter the dreams of a comatose serial killer in order to find out the location of his latest victim before said victim is executed by the killer’s automated drowning device (a.k.a. “The Cell”).

Despite Lopez’s mediocre skills as a music artist and her questionable public image, she definitely has talent as an actress. She brings a lot of life to her character and proves very interesting to watch. I found her appealing in Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 film “Out of Sight” and seeing her in “The Cell,” only made me appreciate her talents more. However, I won’t be entirely impressed with her until she is able to shed her abrasive, Bronx accent for her next role that doesn’t call for it. Likewise impressive is Vincent D’Onofrio as the killer Carl Stargher. Ever since his portrayal as the “cadet gone section eight,” in the masterful, “Full Metal Jacket,” D’Onofrio has seemingly been typecast as a sympathetic psycho in many of his films to date. He’s terrific to watch and his performance in “The Cell” is no exception. How he can make you feel sorry for his evil characters is nothing short of brilliant.

This is certainly impressive for Tarsem Singh in his feature film directorial debut. Singh won numerous awards for directing the R.E.M video “Losing My Religion” and will probably get a big studio deal, judging from the early success of “The Cell.” Also of note is the slick and ingenious script by Mark Protosevich. A former development executive, Protosevich has a knack for writing intense, sci-fi thrillers. His screenplay adaptation of, “I Am Legend,” based off of the sci-fi/vampire novel by Richard Matheson, is considered one of the finest, unmade scripts in Hollywood (I’m hoping the script will make it out of development hell). Look for his alien-conspiracy thriller “Impostor,” starring Gary Sinise and Vincent D’Onofrio due out later out this year.

“The Cell” can have a profound, psychological effect on the viewer. The colors shown in the dream world are in such contrast to the scenes in the waking world that the transition can be unsettling. Upon exiting the theater, one might feel a little disoriented from the experience of viewing such surreal images as seen in the killer’s nightmares. The cinematography is so adept, that the images appear both beautiful and horrific in the same frame. It also succeeds in incorporating all of the elements that create an effective horror film. There is fright, gross outs, dread and it certainly has a lasting effect on the viewer. I believe that “The Cell” surpasses this year’s earlier (and exceptional) horror movie “Final Destination.” Although not as conventionally scary as “Destination,” “The Cell” certainly wins more points for its imagination.
This movie is definitely for a mature crowd. I wouldn’t dare subject a youngster to the nightmarish visions in this film. Not only would they not get it, but it would also probably give them nightmares of their own. This isn’t so much of a date movie as it is a deep, introspective piece of cinema. I do think that couples will enjoy the intense serial-killer story, but be prepared for the disorientation factor of the images. You and your date might need to go get some pizza afterwards to get you back into a talkative mood.

Scale of 1-5:
4 ½

Most refreshing aspect of the film:
Hands down, the art direction and costumes. Production Designer Tom Foden certainly outdid himself for creating such original sets, reminiscent of the surrealist paintings of Salvador Dali and similar artists. Likewise, Costume Designer Eiko Ishioka created such interesting and visually impressive costumes, that she will most likely receive an Academy nomination. She’s already won an Oscar for her costumes in 1993’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and I would say she’s in the running again.

Biggest gripe:
Vince Vaughn’s uninspired performance. Lopez’s co-star seemed horribly wooden and strangely unhealthy as FBI agent Novak. Critics and even Hollywood, gossipmongers seem concerned about Vaughn. He seemed so alive and dynamic in the breakthrough movie, 1996’s “Swingers”… only to seem sleepy and corpse-like in his recent films and in public. Additionally, the visuals set up so much interesting, psychological imagery, yet it never fully paid them off. I wanted to know more about the dream images and avatars of the killer, as well as their Freudian implications.

Biggest surprise:
Once again this year, another excellent movie is receiving media backlash. Catholics are denouncing the film, claming that in some of the dream sequences are sacrilegious, depicting Lopez, dressed as the Virgin Mary, while engaging in some morally questionable behavior. Director Singh defends the scenes, saying that Lopez is indeed NOT dressed as the Virgin Mary, but as a well-known goddess from his native country of India. Also many moral watchdogs are criticizing “The Cell” for it’s liberal use of gore. The film’s gore content is certainly no worse than most horror films today. Such complaints always remind me of a “Simpsons,” Halloween episode in which Grandpa Simpson declares that a Krusty the Clown doll is, “Evil, I tells ya!… EVIL!” When Marge asks why he thinks “everything” is evil, Grandpa replies… “I just want some attention.” To supplement their campaign to receive attention, these watchdogs might have something additional about “The Cell” to complain about … The filmmakers claim that the movie is tame compared to the graphic, deleted scenes that they will insert into the DVD version, slated for release early next year. Perhaps the moral critics should wait until then to make their point. I, for one, am buying the DVD.

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