Cell is pretty cut and dry for a zombie film, sticking to what I feel makes for a great one. A slower plot that’s more focused on the characters than with smashing heads and getting as big as a body count as possible. Not that mass zombiecide isn’t on the plate, because it is. Just the focus is on the underlying horror and tension than it is about the gore. Combing my two loves, Stephen King and Zombies seem like a no brainer way to get a solid ten for me. Unfortunately, Cell does have a few too many issues on the logical order of things for me to ride this train that far.
Cell opens in the Boston Airport, with Clay Riddell’s (John Cusack) cell phone dying as he exits his plan. He uses a payphone to call his ex-wife and expresses his wishes to see his son. After a call a strange signal comes in over the Cell Phones of all those near by. Causing them to go into a homicidal rage, attacking those that didn’t hear the signal. Clay manages to escape the airport by way of the subway, which shuts down when the power goes out. On the subway, he meets Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson), the engineer of the subway train. The two leave the subway and make for Clay’s apartment, where they encounter Alex Maxwell (Isbelle Fuhrman), Clays teenage next door neighbor. Who had just killed her mother after hearing the signal and becoming a “phoner”. Clay is driven by the need to see if his son and ex-wife are OK, and leaves to go find them with Tom and Alex. Along the way they find themselves at a boarding school, with only the headmaster Charles Ardai (Stacy Keach) and the only uninfected boy, Jordan (Owen Teague) left. Charles invites them to stay and shows them the field which is full of sleeping Phoners. He explains that they sleep together and night while listening to their phones, as if they are getting software updates. With Clay and Tom’s help, Charles has them set fire to the field with a tanker truck of gas. Though things don’t work out and the explosion kills Charles. The next place they stop is drive-in theater cafe, where they sleep out the day when Phoners are active. During which they all have nightmares featuring a Phoner in a red hoodie, a prominent figure in Clay’s graphic novel. Their journey continues until they come upon a bar, though this one contains uninfected humans bound for Kashwak, a place they a supposed dead zone for cell phones and there for safe. That night the others at the bar become transformed into Phoners and attack the main group. Though Clay and Tom manage to kill them, they aren’t able to do so before one of their own is killed, Alex. After Alex dies, the come across another group of survivors and through them learn that Kashwak is a lie. A trap somehow set up by the Phoners. Though trap or not, it doesn’t matter after Clay reaches his wife’s home and learns of her fate and that his son has headed to Kashwak…
By and large this film is just a slight twist on the standard zombie film, following the 28 Days Later formula of the running zombie. The zombie motif is further re-enforced when the Phoners gain the ability to infect others by playing the signal from their mouths, rather than a bite.
The acting is what sets this film apart as the cast all does a really great job. With special emphasis given to Samuel L. Jackson, Isbelle Fuhrman, and Stacy Keach. Keach does a fantastic job given how little he’s in the film. He manages to steal the scene constantly for the few scenes he’s in. I was less impressed with John Cusack, who often felt like he was just walking through his scenes. Though I haven’t liked a Cusack film since Identity.
I was impressed with the ending, which it seems is a strange stance to take with this film. As it left a sad and haunting impression, along with a feeling of hopelessness. Something that is great, since the a good horror film should inspire negative emotions.
But like I said there are a few issues I have. First of all, the cell towers somehow remain active when the power seems to be failing elsewhere. As power fails and those meant to man the stations disappear I would think the towers would become nonoperational fairly quickly. Next is the Phoners are constantly shown with their phones, but never recharge them. Every phone during the scene where their sleeping in the football field is on, bright and playing music. I don’t know about them but my phone last less than a full day of constant use. So I can’t help but wonder when they all charge their phones?
Final thoughts, it’s no masterpiece, but I do like it. The issues I have with phoners does get to me and the constant wondering about the cell phones and the towers did distract me a bit too much to get any true fulfillment out of this film. The acting is solid and the effects are decently done, better than I would have expected. But I can’t help but feel that people becoming zombies because of the cell phones was done better and more subtly in Warm Bodies. 8/10