The Cell

Retro Review: The Cell

Here are some updated thoughts (2015):  I really don’t remember anything about The Cell except the visuals.  Re-watching the trailer below did stir some of the cobwebs, and I do remember that the movie was original to an extent.  Looking back I think the assessment that it’s The Silence of the Lambs meets The Matrix is close.  Replace The Matrix with Inception it’s even more accurate.  The concept of sharing someone’s mind, or dreams, or memories are ideas that have always interested me, that’s probably why I enjoyed The Cell when I first saw it.  The strange thing is I never saw it in the theater.  Horror/thriller films really aren’t my thing, so I didn’t see it until I rented it later.  This review is an excerpt from that DVD review.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to enter someone else’s mind?  Have you ever wondered about another person’s most private fantasies and nightmares?  These are places that you’d never dream to explore.  But this is exactly where the film The Cell takes you.  It takes you inside the heads of various characters to explore their psyche and their thoughts.

Jennifer Lopez stars as a child psychologist who is supervising the exploration of a new machine that brings one person inside another’s mind.  She must wear a tight leather suit joined to electrodes in order to be able to make the jump.  The machines then put her in a coma-like state and she is transported inside the other person’s mind.

At first, Lopez uses the machine on a small child who is trapped in his own mind, trying to bring him back to the real world.  But one day, a serial killer suffering from a rare case of schizophrenia is brought to Lopez.  This man kills his victims by putting them in a room that gradually fills up with water until the victim drowns.  The killer (played by the always great Vincent D’Onofrio) is in a coma and he’s the only one who knows where his last victim is hidden.  Vince Vaughn, who plays an FBI agent, comes to Lopez asking her to try and enter the killer’s mind in order to find where the latest victim is hidden.

So Lopez enters the killer’s mind, to her own risk.  This is where the movie picks up.  The scenes that take place in the characters’ mind are so full of life and original, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.  The director had a vision when he set out to make this film; these scenes are dreamlike and highly experimental.  It’s as if we are taken from our safe environment to be dropped in a comic book-like world that is otherworldly to us.  Nothing seems real, yet everything feels real.

Of course, as she enters the killer’s mind, Lopez gets lost in it, unable to come back on her own.  It will be up to Vaughn to go in to try and bring Lopez back.  From this point on, the film becomes a race against time.

The Cell PosterTake a terrifying journey into the mind of a killer in this chilling, critically acclaimed psychological thriller.  When a serial killer falls into a coma before his last victim can be found, a child therapist must us an experimental treatment to enter his mind and learn his secrets before it’s too late.  The visually haunting world threatens her very existence when she becomes trapped by the terror inside.  Now an FBI agent must rescue her from the killer’s nightmare mind before he too is lost to the twisted world forever.

The Cell
Director:  Tarsem Singh
Starring:  Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio
Genre:  Horror / Science Fiction / Thriller
Media:  Film, 107 minutes
Rating: R
Budget: $33 million
Box Office: $104 million, worldwide
Year: August 18, 2000
4 out of 5 stars

I can’t praise the costumes, the set designs, the special effects and the cinematography enough.  It’s obvious that everyone who dealt with this script worked hard to create a unique and fantastical world.  The film is a mind trip.  There is a great scene in this film that will always remain engraved in my mind.  At one point in the film, Vaughn finally finds Lopez.  She is in a trance, wearing a dominatrix-like bodysuit.  In this scene, D’Onofrio takes the image of a mad king.  He goes after Vaughn and tortures him in a medieval-like method.  This scene looked like something that had been drawn right out of someone’s nightmares.  The costumes are wonderful and the sets are strangely gothic, yet bright at the same time.

It’s hard to describe a film that relies so much on imagery.  I know that some critics have disliked the film because of its lack of plot.  And it’s true that the basic story line is minimal and that you never know much about the characters, except from their actions. But this isn’t a film that’s about its characters, but a visual film about what the characters feel and do.  In the trance world, the characters don’t have to talk to each other with their mouths but only with their minds.  While there, they are transported from one place to the next instantly.  The film is disorienting . . . exactly what a series of nightmares might feel like.

The Cell is a highly experimental film that would never have been done without the help of Lopez’s involvement.  This is the director’s first film (his big break came when he directed the R.E.M. video Losing My Religion) but it’s a great film.  It’s been  described as The Silence of the Lambs meets The Matrix.  But I don’t think is a fair assessment.  Sure, The Cell does hold elements similar to these two films, but I prefer seeing this film as a true original.  There’s nothing quite like it out there.  The whole film is like a roller coaster ride that never ends.  It’s like being trapped in someone’s body forever.  It’s like seeing through the eyes of a killer.  The problem is that what you see isn’t as ordinary and sound as what a normal person would see. What we get is a ride through insanity and horror.

NOTE: Although the film is very graphic and not for everyone, I have to say that more than 10 minutes of violence was cut for the American release.  The original version will only appear in Europe.  But the film’s director has stated that his “true” version will appear on the DVD as a director’s cut.

Like it or hate it, no one can say that The Cell isn’t original.  Yes, it’s very experimental and disturbing, which means that it’s not for everyone.  I admire the film for it’s sets, costumes and imagery, not for its plot.  There are many scenes in this film that you will not soon forget.  But I really don’t think it’s too artsy for general audiences.  Just prepare your mind for a trip like none other and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy this nightmarish voyage.

Words © 2000-2020, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
Images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).

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