Monday, March 30, 2020

If a Cell Phone Rings In the Middle of the 2010s, Does Anyone Care?

Mobile phones were still a fairly new phenomenon in 2006 when Stephen King published Cell, en epic novel about a phone call that turned users into hive minded zombies. The material was ripe for a film adaption. Hollywood being what it is, it just took so long that by the time it happened, actual filmgoers ended up looking at the trailer and wondering, "Who still answers their cell phone?"

Quick Plot: After a good dozen different production company logos, we meet Clay Riddell (King regular John Cusack), a graphic novelist waiting to board a flight to return to his estranged wife and young son in New Hampshire. When his battery dies, he hops on one of those old-fashioned machines that require cash currency to make a call right as everyone with an active cell phone receives a fast zombifying signal. 

Clay survives the chaos and quickly teams up with Tom (Samual L. Jackson) and a character named DJ Liquid who thankfully dies immediately. The pair are soon joined by teenager Alice (Orphan's own Isabelle Fuhrman). Because this is a story written by a man in the late aughts, Clay insists on braving his way through hordes of cannibals to find his young son, presumed alive even though Clay was on the phone with him during the signal.

Look, I'm not saying a parent shouldn't/wouldn't risk everything to save his or her child, even if every logical bit of sense pointed to said kid being dead or worse. It's just that so many stories, particularly in horror, use the "dad risks it all for son" in such a way that it's forced me to roll my eyes. 

Anyway, the trio travel through New England, evading the creatures, picking up a few stragglers, losing a few more along the way, and having The Stand-like dreams with a shared villain on their tails. 

As you might have guessed, there's not that much new. Not too surprisingly, the script (written by King and Adam Alleca) stays fairly close to the novel save for a rather random, not very well explained or satisfying finale. Director Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2) has a far better cast than this type of movie would usually warrant, but the actors are all essentially stuck playing the kind of Stephen King types that have been reused and recycled so much that they barely register. 

That's not to say Cell is as big a failure as its "sat on the shelf for two years before getting dumped on streaming platforms" reputation might suggest. Williams does manage to capture that effective 28 Days -- or more fittingly, 28 Weeks-- Later tension level when it comes to some of his chase scenes. When you watch a movie like this during the COVID-19 crisis, there's certainly some unnerving effects in seeing a world made empty and gray. While movies like The Girl With All the Gifts have since done a better job of playing with the hive mind aspect of this kind of monster, Cell makes some mildly interesting plays at the idea. 

Overall, what more can you say for a film that embodies the review of "okay?"

High Points
We've seen plenty of variations of the "sudden mass hysteric zombie outbreak" on film, and while Cell's isn't necessary the best, it's an extremely well-done scene and strong opening for an otherwise fairly middle-of-the-road-filled-with-cellphone-zombies film

Low Points
Hell hath no fury quite like cheaply rendered CGI fire

Lessons Learned
Before blasting it across a large field filled with extremely flammable beings, take a minute to consider the basic rules of gasoline 

The human brain is just one big ol' hard drive

Pacifists are extremely quick to learn good aim

Ferland's Revenge?
So I have a complicated, rather useless theory Jodelle Ferland spent most of her teenage years cursing the name Isabelle Furhman. Both made their horror mark by playing evil brunette child types, but Furhman got the far better movie while Ferland's Case 39 had a delayed release with no real fanfare or success, while her smaller part in the better received Cabin In the Woods also sat on a shelf for two years. Furhman got a juicy role in The Hunger Games while Ferland ended up in a Twilight sequel. So while I don't play fantasy sports and I usually ignore celebrity feuds, there's a petty, specific part of me itching to know whether Furhman's participation in the, you guessed it, two-years delayed, released to little fanfare Cell was part of some pact Ferland made with the devil.

Look, it's been a really weird time. Allow me my diversions where I can get them. 

Eh, Cell probably isn't as bad as you've heard, but that's not necessarily a positive recommend. If you're a zombie or Stephen King completist, this is somewhere in the middle range of what you've come to expect. It's streaming on Hulu. 


  1. I'm glad you reviewed this because a friend and I are on a quest to watch at least 50 Stephen King film adaptations (we've seen 47 now) and Cell is one we haven't seen yet. Luckily for us, we expect a certain level of trash from King so while Cell doesn't sound good, it does sound like it will be right up our alley. Once we hit 50, I plan on making a blog post giving our thoughts on each one, the best, the worst, the biggest surprises in terms of quality, etc. I can't wait.

    Aaahhhhh, off-topic but I was just about to ask if you've seen Jug Face when I checked your list of tags, and you have! I haven't seen it but have been curious about it for years. Will read your review now.

    1. I can't decide if 50 King flicks seems like a lot or a little. How many in total are there? I feel like I've probably seen more than 50, but...jeez. Somehow that seems insane!

      I really liked Jug Face! Curious to hear what you think.