Yeah, I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard of this movie. There are better odds you’ve at least heard of the book it’s based on, but even that isn’t a certainty. The thing is, Cell is what I’ve seen recently. So I’m going to write a review of it, and that’s what you get to read. I don’t want to hear any arguments.
Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, this is going to be one of my shorter reviews. Cell the movie is based on Cell the book, written by Stephen King. Both book and movie are horrifying, befitting the man’s pedigree.
The plot revolves around a man named Clay, played by the skilled John Cusack. Clay is an aspiring graphic novelist who’s returning from a trip. A call to his estranged wife and son is cut short by a dead battery.
This proves fortuitous, as moments later a signal is broadcast across all cell phones with an ongoing call. The signal disrupts the brains of anyone exposed to it. They become feral creatures, attack anyone in sight or even harming themselves.
Clay is forced to flee, allying with a train driver named Tom and his young neighbor Alice. Clay decides to move heaven and earth to get to his family up in Maine. Tom and Alice follow along, presumably because they have no better options.
The “phoners”, as the main character’s begin to call them, change over the next several days. They become more organized, more cooperative. They begin using weapons and targeting only those who haven’t been exposed to the signal. Most importantly they begin to move in flocks.
From there the story progresses both as expected and completely unexpectedly. The trio journey overland on foot and run into problems about as often you’d think. They get out of them with suitable creativity and sheer effort. The ending of the movie, however, is confusing in the extreme. There’s so many fake-outs and sudden half-twists that you’re left confused until, and even past, the last moment.
We’ll get to spoilers in a second, but first let’s talk about the movie’s components. First off the cast. The movie is led by the previously mentioned Cusack, and he does an excellent job at the role. Backing him up are Samuel L Jackson as Tom and Isabelle Fuhrman as Alice.
Jackson is an evergreen actor, and he continues to perform excellently in this movie. The role isn’t particularly dramatic, but he plays it well and very believably. Fuhrman does an amazing job as Alice, however. Again, the role isn’t particularly deep and doesn’t offer an extensive opportunity to act. Fuhrman does the role well, however. When we’re first introduced to her she’s covered in blood, wielding a knife, and utterly hysterical. She does a great job of expressing suitable panic and hysteria.
Visually the movie looks… fine. All of the close in stuff looks great. The make up is solid and it’s filmed well. Fighting between phoners and people, particularly in the beginning, is visceral and brutal in the best way possible. The larger scale stuff, such as a plane crash early in the movie, look pretty dang fake. These are few and far between, however, so fortunately you aren’t forced to sit too much of it.
SPOILER ALERT: Gonna talk about the ending here.
The ending of the movie really weird. There’s no way around that. In the book the phoners begin to organize in greater fashion. They begin to act like a hive mind and actually develop psychic powers. The heroes are assaulted by dreams and threatened over and over again.
Additionally, phoners that have changed later in the story begin to act erratically. They start being imprisoned by normal phoners. One of the characters theorize that the signal is a computer programming that has developed a virus. They further theorize the exposing the variant phoners to the signal again my reset them to normal.
Clay finishes the fight by driving a truck of explosives into the largest flock around. He detonates it, killing the apparent leader, and manages to survive. The story ends with him finding his son, who has been exposed to the signal. He then exposes him to the signal again and we’re left not knowing what happens.
In the movie however… none of that happens. The phoners have the hive mind and their are some spooky dreams, but there isn’t anything like in the book. Clay drives the truck into the flock and finds his son there. He detonates the truck and we see him walking down some train tracks with his son in what appears to be heaven. Then it cuts back to the flock. Clay didn’t detonate the truck at all, but was taken by signal and is now just another member of the flock.
It’s a disappointing change to say the least. It’s especially confusing since King apparently worked on the movie directly. Unlike the book, which ends ambiguously but with a good deal of closure, the movie is simply ambiguous. It’s not satisfying, which is unfortunate since the rest of the movie was fairly promising.
All things considered Cell is fairly serviceable. It’s nothing truly exciting. But if you’re looking for something while wandering your local video store, you could certainly do worse than this. It’s a little weird, and more than a little brutal. The ending might not be the most satisfying thing in the world. But at the end of the day, I enjoyed watching it. And what more can you ask for?