Cell (2016 movie) review…

Technology is Evil, dont’cha know?… After the break…

Cell (2016 movie) review…

For as long as films have been around, a subgenre of horror movies has always centered around how Evil (with a capital ‘E,’ of course) adapts to the latest technology. Evil, after all, is the World’s Greatest Technophile and, if you don’t believe that, just look at some of the rather now-dated & particular hokey horror movies that came out during generations prior where Evil is administered via the latest technological fad.

There have been movies where Cable Television was the techno-monster. The Internet, of course, has also been bitten by the Evil bug. Computers, in general, have harbored electronic evil. Video arcade machines (ask your parents), VCR tapes (use a search engine), television, bio-agriculture (or GMOs as it’s referred to nowadays), telephones, atomic energy, text messaging, robots, vinyl records… If it has been a fad with the kiddies and it’s technological in nature, odds are, there’s been a movie where that technology has been the focus of evil in a horror movie.

Even the grand-daddy of technology horror, the book “Frankenstein,” followed the fad of the day as science was ramping up it’s knowledge about human biology.

“Cell” is a 2016 movie based off of the 2006 novel of the same name by famed horror novelist Stephen King. At it’s heart, the movie is a classic zombie thriller. An entire civilization is turned near-instantaneously into raging, homicidal maniacs, all because of a mysterious audio signal sent into everyone’s cellular phones at the same time. If you didn’t receive this killer audio signal the first time, though, the mysterious entity will be more than happy to call you back.

John Cusack plays Clay Riddell and it’s Clay’s lucky day – His cellphone needs recharging when the killer phone signal is first emitted, sparing him from becoming a zombie but he now must escape the airport that he’s in from all of the zombies surrounding him. He manages to make his way to a subway station, a place where there’s no cellphone signals. During this brief reprieve, he meets Tom McCourt, a subway car driver, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The two eventually flee the subway and manage to stumble upon a third hapless survivor, Alice Maxwell (played by Isabelle Fuhrman), who has just survived a harrowing and traumatic encounter with her zombie mother.

The trio forms an unlikely group that then goes on the tried-and-true zombie trope of a journey; In this case, Clay is compelled to find his family and discover what might have happened to them. Along their way they find other survivors as well as discover that these “cellphone zombies” are smarter than the average zombie because, just like the Internet itself, they are all interconnected and behave just like the cellphones and smartphones that we use today. They also discover that the cellphone zombies might be led by a mysterious “leader cellphone zombie” called “The Raggedy Man” who wears a red-hooded sweatshirt and is badly in need of some acne medication.

Since I’ve never read the book, I’m not going to compare the movie to the book. From my understanding, the movie somewhat follows the book until close to the end. Stephen King supposedly wrote a different ending for the movie as opposed to how the book ended.

It really doesn’t matter if you prefer the book ending or the movie ending because, beyond the unconventional method for how the human population turned into these zombies in the first place, zombie movie enthusiasts have seen it all before and they’ve likely seen it performed better. There’s a reason why this movie, which was held in limbo for years because of something to do with distribution rights and money, was eventually only quietly released onto video despite the considerable star power of John Cusack & Samuel L. Jackson.

The movie wastes the talents of just about everyone involved; John Cusack is the star of the movie but he has little else to do other than swing a melee weapon on occasion and act like John Cusack. Samuel L. Jackson & Isabelle Fuhrman have even less to do in this movie other than the typical zombie movie calesthenics of shooting, running, hiding and the occasional exposition dialog scene. One has to wonder what Stacy Keach is doing in a movie like this other than picking up a quick paycheck for a few scenes worth of work. Perhaps the only actor who had any fun in this movie was Anthony Reynolds who plays Ray, a survivor who’s one bar short of a clear signal himself and hams it up as a semi-psychotic character who might be smarter than he sounds. At one point, Samuel L. Jackson simply disappears from the movie as Cusack goes on his quest to find his family and I felt as though I should have followed Jackson more than Cusack since Jackson was the more rational of the two.

Part of the failure of this film is the lack of any real goal; John Cusack wants to return to his family to see if they’ve survived the cellphone apocalypse (referred to in the movie as “the pulse”). Along the way, they meet various survivors and encounter various zombies and, somehow, get it into their brains that if they only destroy a certain cellphone tower, that it will cause the apocalypse to end. Neither of these goals is very compelling or even compellingly relayed to the viewer.

Another part of the failure of this film is the lack of an enemy. The cellphone zombies are, obviously, a threat but then the movie injects this maybe-mythical, maybe-real super-villain called “The Raggedy Man” who might be a leader or who might be a figment of imagination. This is not the first time that a Stephen King property has used a sort of vague villain who may or may not have these supernatural and otherworldly powers. It’s a sort of H.P. Lovecraft-lite spin of the unstoppable aetheral villain toying around with mere mortals to show them how awesome they are until that villain gets bored and just squashes the humans. Just because the device is used, though, doesn’t mean that the device is very effective.

Finally, the ending itself is vague and fractured as to be utterly meaningless. Stephen King supposedly had a more upbeat ending for his book but in this movie, the ending is just plain confusing. Confusing endings seems to be one of these recent Hollywood trends. The thought is that, if the ending is confusing, we’ll think about the movie more because humans enjoy puzzles and it will keep the movie in our brains. these types of endings are also supposedly good for screenwriters and directors because they can just simply end the movie and then pretentiously declare that the ending is whatever you wish it to be; A buffet of choices, if you will, for every movie-goer.

Sorry, but the ending isn’t avant-garde or trendy; It just sucks and it sucks because I didn’t understand it and I’m not going to study the movie for an hour to understand it. If anything, the unique nature of how civilization falls prey to these cellphone zombies creates a giant loophole, both in the immediate story and afterwards. For instance, deaf people aren’t affected by the signal because, well… they’re deaf and they can’t hear things. What about people who are hard of hearing, such as older people or people who wear hearing aids that alter natural sounds?

If these zombies are still alive and not undead, like regular zombies typically are, then they need to eat and urinate and perform all of the basic societal functions that normal, everyday humans perform. Having groups of zombies all perform these wonderfully-coordinated tasks in the movie like walking around in a tightly-formed circle might be visually impressive and even a bit spooky but it doesn’t help in garbage pick-up delivery or make sweaters.

Also, if the survivors know that they can be turned into zombies by hearing a certain series of sounds, why not wear ear protectors or put earplugs into their ears to muffle the sound? If it’s cold outside, don’t people naturally put on a jacket or if it’s raining, they put up an umbrella? Survivors in these zombie movies can be so irrational at times.

“Cell” is a zombie movie that is in need of not just a signal boost but also a different carrier and a better phone.

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