THE CELL is surrealistic grand opera as choreographed by the Marquis de
Sade. As first-time screenwriter Mark Protosevich accurately points out in
the press kit, he wanted to take the next step beyond THE SILENCE OF THE
LAMBS. Even this critic, who generally has an iron constitution after years
of watching 300 films a year, was squirming in his seat on this one. Taking
itself completely seriously, the movie blends science fiction technology
with an old fashioned hunt for a serial killer and his dying last victim.
The result is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that should have been rated NC-17
but was given an R. Consider THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS as your personal
benchmark. If it was too much for you, then you do not want to see THE
CELL. Other the hand, this is one of the best movies of the summer, and you
can always close your eyes if you have to.
The story opens in an imaginary landscape as psychologist Catherine Deane
(Jennifer Lopez) tries to help a young boy, Edward (Colton James), break out
of his coma. Through a new transcendental science, she is able to work her
way into his unconscious mind. As she and the boy wear red-ribbed
bodysuits, they are suspended on cables from the ceiling. Once up in this
contraption, her mind goes into his. It sounds silly and looks a bit
ridiculous, but the story shoots for and achieves intelligent
science-fiction rather than camp.
The majority of the credit for THE CELL should go to first-time feature film
director Tarsem Singh, who crafts audacious scenes of great visual power.
He puts his background as a music video director to work, finding inventive
and beautiful ways to stage scenes.
Paul Laufer's stunning cinematography, with its dark, oversaturated colors,
calls to mind another Lopez film, Oliver Stone's U-TURN. THE CELL's
striking visuals along with its fantastical costumes absolutely mesmerize
Even though she had little luck with poor Edward, Catherine is called into
service by the FBI. After a dramatic investigation, the FBI, led by FBI
Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn, CLAY PIGEONS) captures serial killer Carl
Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio, Abbie Hoffman in STEAL THIS MOVIE!). But there
is a problem. After putting his last victim into a cube slowly filling with
water, Carl fell into a coma. Carl, the doctor explains, is "not just
catatonic. He has disappeared." The doctor says that Carl will never
regain his consciousness. This means that, unless Catherine can enter his
mind and find the location of the torture chamber, his last victim will die
Along her terrible journey into the creepy unknown of a schizophrenic's
mind, we witness a plethora of horrible and beautiful images. Jake Thomas,
as the young Carl, is sometimes Catherine's tour guide. The scene of
someone's intestines being slowly ripped out is not even the worst of many
nightmarish incidents that we encounter. Carl appears a malevolent king of
his terrifying netherworld.
"Remember, it's not real," one of the institute's scientists (Marianne
Jean-Baptiste) admonishes someone about to try the machine for the first
time. Yeah, right. It looks pretty scary to the audience, so one can just
imagine how frightening it would be going inside the head of a serial
killer. Nevertheless, the movie makes this voyage completely engrossing,
like reading a book that you can't put away until you've read every page.
Although the movie may make you embarrassed for not having more elaborate
dreams, it could also have another effect. It may make you wish that the
future described in the story would get here sooner. Imagine arranging for
Jennifer Lopez to appear in your dreams with a disk that you could insert
into your bed's electronics. Now that would be a movie tie-in worth
THE CELL runs a blazingly fast 1:45. It is rated R for bizarre violence and
sexual images, nudity and language, but it should have been rated NC-17.
It would be acceptable for high school seniors and older.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes