I mentioned The Cell in my underrated horror movies, and I honestly stand by its inclusion. However, I recently decided to rewatch it with the hopes of being able to give deeper thoughts on how I felt about it. The Cell follows Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) who is part of an experimental group that has found a way to transport the consciousness of one person into another. They are using it on a young boy in a coma who is physically fine but mentally blocking himself from waking up. We then meet Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) who is chasing a serial killer. When he catches up to the killer, he is put into a coma in the resulting scuffle, and a race against the clock to find the killer’s latest victim begins.
It is not a unique plot, in fact, other than the absence of a go-between serial killer it’s pretty much Silence of the Lambs; however the circumstances of actually entering a killer’s mind is relatively new and compelling. The Cell attempts to do everything it can with this idea and presents a genuinely horrific world for Deane to explore. Between dark and violent imagery, to the backstory of an extremely abused boy that grows up into a nightmarish man, to the costume design. Hell, even the filters and how the film is shot gives way to the way the world looks, with several moments having cigarette burns to give a certain “look.” Every detail that can be explored is. The movie looks fantastic, I would be hard pressed to agree with anybody that thinks otherwise.
The problem is that the movie itself doesn’t live up to how it looks. The movie for all of its beauty is just not scary enough. The stakes never feel that high because our killer is basically powerless. Yes, they can fail to get to the girl in time to save her, but other than that there is very little he can do. It is especially disappointing because they toy with the idea of Deane not being able to trust if she’s in his mind or the real world, but this is not explored enough for the audience to also question the same thing. So while there is one moment were Deane starts to lose herself and believes that she belongs in his mind, but it’s over so quickly that it doesn’t land. The pacing is also off with most of the movie just following Deane walking around in the killer’s mind. Yeah, this is great visually, but it has no suspense or impact. There are very few moments that are actually meant to scare us, and they don’t really succeed when they happen.
The plot itself is not bad, but it’s something we’ve seen before as mentioned. The spin of Deane seeing the killer’s mind is fresh but not enough to take it over the edge.
So what are we left with? Well, an artistically brilliant movie with an okay plot, and not enough tension or scares to be a great horror movie. And yet… I can’t write it off. The visuals are just so damn good, almost terrifying enough to make up for a lack of tension, and the idea is really compelling. It’s worth a watch without a doubt, but it always leaves me wanting a bit more.
I still stand by it’s underrated because it’s just not as bad as people say. It’s not bad at all, just not as good as it could be. It is impossible to write this movie off because what it does right it does so very right. I would have liked to see it given more love, and if possible, it might not even be the worst movie to remake.