Stephen King’s best-selling novel is brought to terrifying life in this mind-blowing thriller starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. At the Boston airport, Clay (Cusack) witnesses a scene of chaotic mayhem when an electronic signal turns hundreds of cell phone users into rabid killers. Desperate to find his estranged wife and son, Clay teams with a train driver (Jackson) to battle the horde of murderous “phoners” as the city descends into apocalyptic madness.
"Cell" is one of the few Stephen King novels I haven't read yet. I've heard it's a decent yarn. A slightly different take on the zombie genre with a King-ian twist. That's what the movie feels like anyway.
Here's a movie that really could've used a bigger budget and the ability to realize its true scope. See, one day Clay Riddell (John Cusack) is in a terminal at Boston's Logan Airport, when everything goes straight to hell. At a random moment, everyone who was on their cell phone at the time goes berserk. A strange frequency is transmitted through their phones and they turn crazed and blood-thirsty. Clay's cell phone mercifully ran out of batteries so he was on a pay phone at the time of the event.
Like so many King stories, there are a few mysteries that remain half-answered, or unanswered altogether. Where did the frequency come from? Who sent it? Why? What purpose do all these murderous lunatics serve? Is there a purpose? So many questions that the movie does its best to answer in such a short runtime.
The true scope of the story feels limited by the movie's budget. Cut-rate special effects (CGI smoke is just terrible looking) doesn't provide the realism something like this deserves. It's a shame this film didn't have more of a blockbuster type of feel.
So, as the story goes, Clay is a graphic novelist with secrets. He's also semi-estranged from his wife and kid, but after the event he's determined to travel north to find them. He meets up with a subway driver named Tom (Samuel L. Jackson) and together they try and piece together what's happening. Along the way they take on a few other traveling companions, like Clay's upstairs neighbor Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman) and a young kid named Jordan (Owen Teague). It's a motley crew, but they find various ways to survive this creepy new world.
Where 'Cell' excels is in its creepiness factor. There are some worthwhile scares here, not to mention the entire movie makes you feel slightly uneasy. King helped pen the screenplay – along with Adam Alleca – and you can feel his influence on the adaption. While the story moves at a much brisker pace than a novel, it still harbors King's trademark ambiguity.
The biggest question is, how much different is it from standard zombie movie fare? It's a bit different. There aren't as many blood-and-guts scenes. Not really sure if that was simply because they didn't have the budget to show that type of stuff. The zombies here are more of a '28 Day Later' variety, although what they have doesn't appear to be contagious. The frequency is what causes the illness.
The real suspense come from the unseen. We simply do not know who or what is behind the attack. It's unnerving. That's the type of thing King thrives on in his storytelling. Because the mystery remains mysterious we're left wondering what exactly is happening and why. I found that aspect of the movie its most compelling.
It's noticeable that 'Cell' wasn't meant for wide release, which is a shame. It's just not as polished as other thrillers you might see at this time of year. Regardless, it does provide a few decent scares and offers up an entertaining diversion into another one of King's vague mysteries.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This release from Lionsgate comes with a 50GB single Blu-ray. There's also a code included for a digital copy. Finally, it comes with a standard cardboard slipcover.
The 1080p Lionsgate transfer is solid, if only a tad inconsistent. With the lower budget comes a few visual quirks that we should expect. Black areas are a little dimmer. There's some noise here and there. Darker scenes lack a little depth. These aren't huge issues and yet they're obvious throughout.
Detail is strong. Especially in well-lit scenes and close-ups. Facial features are fully visible. Dirt, blood, and grime caked on the skin of the zombies is always clear. When the lights go down some detail is lost. Shadows aren't as deep as one might like them to be. Delineation could use some help too. In short, darker scenes are just a bit flatter and a little more lifeless than daytime scenes.
The high definition really calls attention to the subpar special effects. Like I said before, the CGI smoke is pretty bad – like SyFy movie bad. Then there are some large-scale computer-generated shots near the end that are decently put together. Again, it's just inconsistent.
Lionsgate has provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for 'Cell.' As inconsistent as the video presentation may be, the audio stands on firmer ground. The surround sound capabilities of this mix provided for an immersive listening experience. It also adds to the creepiness factor.
Rear channels are filled with shrieking hordes of crazies running after our heroes. The sound design really puts you in the middle of the action. LFE is constant during the more intense scenes and also during a few explosions. Panning effects are smooth. There aren't many of them, but even just a group of snarling zombies moving across the frame provides some nicely transitioned sound.
Dialogue is clear. There's never any moments where the people talking are hard to hear. The movie's soundtrack is piped through all the channels adding to the spooky ambiance. It's not demo material, per se. It's simply a disc with a solid mix that will plunge you into the story.
Audio Commentary – Director Tom Williams provides an audio commentary.
To 'Cell' and Back: The Making of the Film (HD, 12 min.) – This is your standard talking head making-of featurette where cast and crew are interviewed while we see various scenes from the movie spliced in.
'Cell' is a decent thriller. Something to throw on during a slow Saturday night. It's not overly inventive, and fans of the novel might have issues with the film adaption. However, it does provide some genuine Stephen King thrills that make it worth a watch. Only if it's once. The video is a little inconsistent, whereas the audio is nice. Rent it if you're interested.