Though in 2006 Stephen King’s source novel may have felt current and ahead of the curve, in tech-savvy 2016, this post-apocalyptic warning about our phone-obsessed society comes off as hokey and unsavorily retrograde. Despite a talented cast, Cell’s reception is sure to be low (sorry) by way of an utterly ennui-inducing narrative.
Clay Riddell (John Cusack) gets caught in the middle of a supernatural event, where anyone using their mobile phone is transformed into a mindless zombie. Clay is then forced to team up with a survivalist named Tom (Samuel L. Jackson) and his neighbour Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman) to try and find a way to stop the plague.
Without the King brand attached to it (and consequently three marketable leads), this could easily be mistaken for a risible B-movie you’d expect to see on SyFy. Depressingly, King himself wrote the screenplay and is seemingly unable to keep his text relevant or especially unsettling a decade after the fact, while director Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2) does mostly anonymous work behind the camera.
Cusack, Jackson and Fuhrman are just fine here, well aware that they’re not exactly starring in a masterpiece but not quite phoning it in either. Fuhrman in particular has a compelling quality about her that does, for a time, elevate the pic beyond the usual DTV shenanigans.
It is, sadly, only for a time, however, as the pic’s uneven pacing, atrocious visual effects and near-incomprehensible finale sink almost any good work the trio pull off. The film’s final five minutes are so aggressively opaque that they seem tailor-made to confuse and irritate rather than intrigue, though it’ll be impressive if you’re still remotely invested in what’s going on by that point.
The actors are game and the so-so direction might’ve flown with a stronger script, but instead, this plays like a movie that should’ve been made almost immediately after the novel hit stores, not now, where it’s pretty much a laughable relic that unsurprisingly didn’t even make it to cinemas.
Cell is available on VOD now