Stephen King adaptations have a rather lousy track record. Aside from the classics such as Carrie and The Shining, you’d be surprised that a multitude more exist. For every The Shawshank Redemption you get a dozen that fall as flat as Thinner. King’s 2006 novel Cell followed the battle of the human race against cell phone zombies and, as his work goes, it was passable but by no means his best. Luckily for this adaptation it has the acting talents of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, who coincidently both appeared in 2007’s 1408; a cult favorite in the King fandom. Maybe lightning can strike twice?
Where do I start with this video on demand nightmare? Oh yeah, the editing. Cell possesses some of the worst cinematography in any film of recent years. Its shots are overly busy or vacant, with no clear focus or artistry. The opening scenes set in Boston Logan Airport are pasted together lazily and I find it hard to believe that this wasn’t filmed with a handheld camera. The shakiness on display is unforgivably nausea-inducing.
Effort was made on some special effects, with the zombie “Phoners” looking accurate to their literary counterparts through the use of prosthetics and some eerie sound design. However, the level of green screen at play is abysmal. Jarring and made heavily obvious against the real world, extras are often repeated to populate the hordes of infected. Even when watching at a lower resolution on my laptop, I was able to visibly see where locations had been randomly inserted to create this patchwork mess of a movie. Is this set in Boston or some random smog covered field? Either way, what we’re shown is equally drab.
The main character of Cell, Clay (Cusack), is meant to come across as a doting family man caught in the cross fire of the apocalypse, but he comes across as wooden and one dimensional as they come. The supporting characters of Tom (Jackson) and Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman) try to bring some heart to the narrative as they attempt to survive in the tech nightmare that is unfolding before them, but little can be done with the script they’ve been given. The film had been in development hell for many years, with a variety of distributors and writers assigned before falling away from the project. Recent reports have stated that although the screenplay was written by King himself with contributions by Cusack, production cut most of their work to get it out on the market; surely development hell would have been a better fate than this.
I could keep going on but I don’t think it’s necessary. If you’re a Stephen King fan then it might be up your alley if you really must satiate the completion aspect of your curiosity. But I’ll openly state that this is the worst that VOD has on offer right now.