Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review: The Cell (2000)

Jennifer Lopez and her booty have to travel through Hirst, Nerdrum, Giger, various Tarkovsky films, and the Losing My Religion, Closer, The Perfect Drug, and Bedtime Story music videos in order to find the location of a comatose serial killer's final victim, in a situation so specific that it's hard to imagine the Dreamsharing Institute ever getting its own television show. Nonetheless, our reward for all of those directors learning their craft at MTV at the height of its power is the occasional art film/genre picture hybrid, where it's hard to tell if one side is elevating the other or if one side is a weight dragging the other down.

It would have been so easy for The Cell to be a run-of-the-mill Silence of the Lambs clone where the science fiction element is wasted on someone who doesn't know what they're doing. Tarsem Singh was definitely the person to hire for the dreamstuff, but his craftiness bleeds into areas outside of the money-shots; the killer's victims are given proper, horrific detail, D'onofrio's arrival to the institute is a thing of vaguely unsettling beauty, and the implication of Vince Vaughn's molestation as a child is later used as a seduction technique. We got really, really lucky.

The weights come in the form of clear outside interference, boxing gloves and shoulder pads. A woman's life hinging on Jennifer Lopez's success is infinitely more important than proving her worth to the parents of a comatose child. The dramatization of D'onofrio's ridiculous dragonlike seizures cruelly undercut the kinetic, purely pornographic FBI siege on his home. Dylan Baker's folksy explanations of the dreamcloths to the detectives (therefore, the audience) become embarrassingly superfluous when the director has already done such a bang-up job conveying it visually. And there's not much we can do about the ending, where a connection established with a child pre-murderer through a mercy drowning had to also include a crossbow showdown(?).

There should be a cut of this with the handholding excised. The insane visual effects, the fusion of Howard Shore's Naked Lunch/Se7en score and the inclusion of Fantastic Planet on a television screen all belong in full-throttle surreality, where the genre trappings are cemented closed and the gunshy studio notes are set on fire. You don't have to perform gymnastics for so long (40 minutes) just to get to the juicy stuff, and we can understand braindiving in this universe without too much justification. We came to a goddamned movie, after all.


  1. Oooh, a Tarsem retrospective! "The Cell" is pretty interesting, as far as I remember. "The Fall" is brilliant. Everything else he's done is... Eeeeeeh.

    1. I have a large soft spot for Immortals. I'll do my best to make my case.