Review: “The Cell”

In the last few months films seem to have become so formulaic they’re basically interchangeable, which is why “The Cell” is certainly a highlight of the season in at least one sense. The visuals in this put European directors like Jean-Pierre Jeunet to shame and certainly add many layers of depth which will be studied for a long time.

The only other US film to come close in this area was the Orpheus fantasy “What Dreams May Come” but “The Cell” proves much better as it overcomes that movie’s main problem – pacing. It’s a mega budget art film which still manages to keep the action and excitement flowing at a level blockbuster crowds are used to and that’s why it’ll likely hit big.

Performance wise its pretty solid across the board, Lopez finally getting to show she has some range and is very easy to sympathise with. Vaughn does well for being put in a pretty standard flatfoot role, while its always fun to see great actors like Marianne Jean Baptiste and Dylan Baker even if they’re stuck in small parts (here playing the other scientists monitoring the experiment).

However this is D’Onofrio’s film really and he plays the killer quite well – a loner with a dark side in the real world while inside his mind lies a truly evil creature and a young innocent boy whom you gotta like. As I said the visuals are stunning with the production design, the FX, the art design, the directing all at the top of their game.

The various ‘mind trip’ sequences can be summed up in one word – freaky. This isn’t some boring dark corridor or building, all the settings are inspired by famous paintings and play on that with some of the strangest costumes you’ll ever see. This is a killer’s mind though so be forewarned its quite gory, in fact almost a little too gory at times (about the same level as 1997’s “Event Horizon”).

In a way its strange to be using such gore as most of it is unneeded (bar one scene involving a primitive barbecue spit you won’t forget), the rest of the time some of the zero gore scenes are actually creepier. There’s a great scene where she’s at the base of some temple stairs and D’Onofrio, sitting like a Japanese emperor on a throne walks down to her with giant curtains hundreds of metres in length and height being pulled along with him – doesn’t sound like much but on screen its both stunning and unsettling which is creepy in and of itself. Also keep an eye ouf for the ‘cleaning the remains in the bathtub’ scene – one inspired by the painting which also was the setting of REM’s “Losing My Religion” music video.

On the downside the amazing sequences in the mind are setup by a rather conventional plot in the real world which just feels like another movie clone of the old and tired serial killer genre. The contrast between the dark & rich dreamworld and the stark & rather sterile real world is very blatant and while you feel very engaged watching Lopez trying to resolve the situation in the mind, the interest in the captured victim isn’t anywhere near as intense. In fact in terms of suspense there isn’t much in the way of scares, more just a subtle creepy feeling.

There’s also hints of a Vaughn/Lopez romance which never eventuate and are thankfully rather low key. This’ll be compared to “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Se7en” of course though doesn’t come close to the acting, writing or originality of both those films which are still and likely always will be the ultimate examples of the genre. Nevertheless its way above the very standard crap like “The Bone Collector” or “Fallen” which seems to get pushed out every few months. Director Tarsem has breathed new life into both a dying genre and tiresome film season.