Thursday, June 30, 2016

In short: Cell (2016)

You know what, says one Hollywood producer to another, why not adapt Stephen King’s very worst book? Yup, the luddite one with the cellphone zombies. The kids love ‘em zombies, and they sure will dig the whole thing about technology being evil, right?

And don’t you think the book’s ending is just not bad enough? I’m sure we’ll be able to stitch something together that’s even worse! Quick, now tell me the director of a bad but commercially very successful horror film? James Wan? Nah, to stylish. How about Tod Williams? You know, Paranormal Activity 2? I’m sure his experience with nailed down cameras will be a great asset here.

Now we only need a star or two. How about Samuel L. Jackson? He’s willing to be in anything as long as he gets paid, and we don’t have to be afraid he’ll believe anything below his dignity. The white guy we need, hmm, big ego, big talent he’s never actually using, career declining painfully… That has John Cusack written all over it! And what if he looks so bored with what he’s doing he might as well be talking in his sleep? And while we’re at it, why not hire a young actress (Isabelle Fuhrman) who’ll actually put effort into our crap like an actual professional, and whose character will die an hour in to add insult to injury?

I’m pretty sure that is exactly what went through various producers’ heads when Cell was greenlit. There’s no explanation how bad this thing is that makes any other sense, no reason for this to be quite as offensively bad as it turned out to be. Apart from Cusack’s sleepwalking and Jackson’s (whom I love, but honestly…) whatever performance, you get direction that – particularly in the first half of the film – goes all out on the lazy director’s favourite methods to produce “tension”: shaky cam and fast inconsistent edits, which also just happens to be the ideal way to avoid having to think about the actual framing of scenes. In this context, it’s hardly a surprise Cell also has the usual bleached out colour scheme going on, nor that Williams manages to waste some choice opportunities to add some weirdness and creepiness it desperately needs to the film, wasting the Kaufman-bodysnatcher with digital noises tendencies of his monsters on scenes that always manage to sell as ridiculous what should be nightmarish.

Of course, given how desperately the script (co-written by King himself, which is usually a very bad sign) tries to push as many elements of the book into a hundred minute running time as possible, the poor guy really doesn’t have the time to prepare any of the more interesting set pieces properly. After all, we need to rush to the next bit of the book, leaving the narrative a tattered series of barely connected episodes that lack any kind of coherence, weight and even the most basic thematic throughline. And then there’s that ending, a thing so misguided, vague and unparsable, even John Cusack’s Nic Cage on a very bad day style cell phone zombie face can’t make it worse than it already is.

I honestly can’t understand how this project could end up being quite as bad as it is – it makes World War Z look downright decent by comparison.

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