Writer: Adam Alleca, Stephen King (screenplay), Stephen King (novel)
Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacy Keach
Running time: 98mins
What’s the story: When mobile phones start sending users violently insane, comic artist Clay Riddell (Cusack) has to battle across country to reach his family. Joining him are subway worker Tom McCourt (Jackson) and Clay’s neighbor Alice Maxwell (Fuhrman).
What’s the verdict: Based on Stephen King’s 2006 novel, Cell is a scrappily enjoyable apocalypse yarn in the vein of buddy George Romero’s The Crazies, plus Cronenberg’s Rabid and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.
Written just before smart phones exploded around the world, King’s novel was remarkably prescient in how rabidly attached we would become to pocket-sized technology. And although not predicting Pokemon Go, he did forsee a world where people are driven to reckless, antisocial behaviour at the behest of their twit-machines.
Taking the long route to the big screen, Eli Roth was due to direct in 2009 before ultimately dropping out, and the film was shot back in 2014, with a troubled post-production reportedly seeing both Cusack and King (also on co-scriptwriting duties here) cut out of the creative process.
Yet, Cell remains pleasing horror with an old-school 80s feel. A modest budget is reserved for key set-pieces, while background information is supplied as characters make the journey across country, holing up in a variety of strongholds (a school, a bar) and say apocalypse movie things like, “Is this the next stage in human evolution?”
Paranormal Activity 2 director Tod Williams can stage a big action scene, the film’s opening airport scene played for dark laughs, sustained panic and violent horror, but he largely opts for bleak, wintry visuals that balance preposterous story.
Cusack, Jackson and Fuhrman (who still needs that next big movie after impressing so much with Orphan) bring dramatic heft to something that risked being float-away lightweight, Jackson in particular dialing back his usual flamboyant presence.
It all runs out of battery before the credits roll and its storage capacity is not up to making complete sense of the muddled plot. But, the climax (changed from the novel) is satisfying in a Twilight Zone kind of way, and will leave undemanding King fans happy while they await the imminent It reboot.
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