Newest Review: ... makes it hard to interpret what is actually being said and I kept missing little snippets particularly throughout the inner-mind sequenc... more
A unique visual experience
The Cell (DVD)
Member Name: zombieflesh
The Cell (DVD)
Advantages: The most stunningly beautiful film I've ever seen, fascinating concept
Disadvantages: questionable lead performances, audio blips, some predictable plot elements
Format: Region 2 - 1 disc DVD
Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Vincent D'Onofrio, Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn
Certificate rating: 18
Tagline: Enter the mind of a killer.
Description from the back of the box: An intensely visual and surreal journey into the depths of a serial killer's mind, The Cell is a riveting science fiction thriller that will shock you with the horrors of one man's frayed mind.
I first watched The Cell a number of years ago when I was going through a phase of watching "mind-fuck" films. It crosses genres with a mix of horror, science fiction and crime thriller themes all fighting for supremacy. My first impression was that I found it intriguing but the combination of different styles didn't quite work for me, and the FBI thriller segments spoiled the rest of the mood that was built by the more impressive horror and sci-fi sequences so I was left feeling bored and short-changed at the end of it. I had an urge to watch it again recently and decided to buy the DVD as it was available very cheaply on Amazon's marketplace. I've watched it a further two times over the past week, and I can definitely say that re-watching The Cell has helped me to gain a better appreciation of the work involved and has made me reconsider my initial impressions.
The film begins by introducing us to the latest experimental technology that can link two people together, allowing one to enter the mind of another. Catherine is a social worker who has been employed to use this technology to help connect with the mind of a young boy in a coma. The plot then branches off to introduce us to Carl Stargher, a ritualistic serial killer who has devised a method of murdering his victims with the aid of a small sealed cell that is run on a fully automated system. The FBI catch up with Stargher and find him in a comatose state, leaving Catherine to try and save the day by entering his mind and learning the location of the cell where his latest victim is being held.
I must say that I loved the concept of this film. I am a long-time fan of horror and science fiction, and I love it when the two merge well. I also like a good serial killer so I should have been in for a treat here. The thing about serial killer films is that the curious mind of the viewer wants to be able to understand the reasoning behind their methodology, and it's interesting to literally delve straight into the psychological side of the killings by entering the killer's mind. Carl Stargher, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, easily gives the best performance here by being able to convincingly portray so many different aspects of his character's schizophrenic personality. I was less than impressed by Catherine Deane, played by Jennifer Lopez. She does not seem to portray the strong female lead role that I wanted her to, and she comes across as being a bit weak and is easily led by her emotions. I also found her voice really irritating to listen to, as it is all light and whispery, so there is no real impact to what she's saying and it comes across as being a bit fake and put on. The other let down is in the performance of FBI agent Peter Novak, played by Vince Vaughn. His cold dead eyes displayed no real sense of character, and I felt less empathy towards him than I did for the serial killer, who of course I should really be siding against! I felt like this part of the story where the FBI / crime thriller aspects came into play were rather mediocre and there were many predictable plot elements that diluted the high level concept that was brought to the film in other areas.
The main thing that stands out in this film is the incredible vision of the director to create a film that is artistic and simply beautiful to watch. The inner-mind sequences are stunning and the way they are depicted is like nothing I've ever seen before. I tried to describe the visual styling to a friend who hasn't seen The Cell, and the best I could come up with was: "it's like The Neverending Story took a trip to Silent Hill.", which I actually think is a pretty reasonable description! It alternates between, and combines, ethereal fantasy with darkly disturbing images. This is presented in the sets, which play with scale to give a distorted, alienating feel when Catherine enters the other characters' minds. There is a real contrast between the "safe" mind journeys, and the "dangerous" ones, when Catherine is interacting with either Edward or Carl. Colour and lighting are used to great effect to promote an instant emotive response. When I see Catherine plunged into the dark underworld of Stargher's mind, my own imagination feeds upon the visual presentation and makes me start to feel on edge in anticipation of what these dark places will reveal. The atmosphere is perfectly attuned to give that horror feel, and there are some scary moments. I don't have a very strong stomach when it comes to gore, and there are a total of three moments during the film when I have to turn away from the screen and stop watching as they are quite intense and make me feel uncomfortable. Compared to some of the "torture porn" films that have emerged into the mainstream recently, this may seem quite tame, but personally I think that the mood of the scenes as well as the convincing special effects achieved a strong reaction in me.
It's interesting to note that director Tarsem Singh was previously in the field of advertising, followed by music videos. The Cell is his first feature film, and you can see where music video styling has come into this film and he also pays homage to a number of different artists; in particular there is one memorable scene that takes inspiration from the works of British artist Damien Hirst. Singh seems to have had a close relationship with the extraordinarily talented designer Eiko Ishioka who has produced all of the stunningly creative and luxurious costumes for not only this film, but all of Singh's subsequent feature films up until her death this year. This woman's work is awe-inspiring and really helps to accentuate the fantasy feeling of the inner-mind scenes. The costuming follows a mainly exaggerated gothic aesthetic which I love, and the attention to detail is exquisite. My favourite pieces are Stargher's capes and Catherine's neck corset as they are just so dramatic and powerful looking.
Despite the grandiose and opulent visual effects, the film is spoiled somewhat by poor audio quality. There are a few places where the dialogue is spoken in a way that makes it hard to interpret what is actually being said and I kept missing little snippets particularly throughout the inner-mind sequences. The last time I watched the DVD I played it with the English subtitles displayed, and I was surprised to find that there were whole sentences that had dropped out of the audio content. There were some poorly recorded or stylised pieces of dialogue that were impossible to understand until I saw the words written on the screen, and I felt like this added a greater meaning to some of the parts which I had either not fully understood, or just missed out completely.
The cover of the DVD boasts that it includes 57 minutes of additional footage. There is a variety to the features provided, but I found the majority to be of little interest. The Vignettes were the real highlight and this is exactly the sort of feature I wanted to see to gain more of an insight to the production of these striking sequences.
+ Director's commentary. Honestly, I never watch these and this is no exception.
+ Isolated score. This is a bit of an odd one, I'm not sure why you would want to sit and watch this, but I guess if you're a keen fan of movie soundtracks then you may find it interesting.
+ Deleted scenes. A selection of 8 deleted scenes. Slightly annoying that there was no "play all" option so I had to select to view each one individually. You can watch with or without an accompanying commentary from the director. The sound is very patchy indeed, so it is difficult to get anything out of these scenes without selecting the commentary. That said, I thought that none of these scenes were necessary as they just seemed drawn out and of no consequence to the storytelling in the film.
+ Behind the Scenes. -Style as substance: reflections on Tarsem. ~12 minutes of the cast and crew all talking about how great they think everyone is. Yawn.
-Visual effects vignettes. Now that's more like it! 6 scenes are taken step by step and given a walkthrough commentary on filming and special effects techniques used. You can view each one in several different ways, and can also change the angle by using the buttons on your remote control. I didn't watch a couple of them, as they included two of my gore-cringe moments, but it was great to see how some of my favourite sequences were put together.
+ Theatrical trailers. Here you can watch two trailers for The Cell, including the full theatrical trailer and an international teaser trailer. They depict a good range of scenes from various points throughout the movie and there is a real build up of tension that would certainly whet your appetite for viewing the full feature. The teaser is very fast paced and doesn't feature any sound bites of dialogue like the full trailer does, so it is not quite as easy to follow.
+ Filmographies. Shows listings of previous works that various cast and crew members have been involved with. This was a pretty dull feature and not really necessary; I'd much rather go over to imdb.com for this sort of information.
+ Interactivities. -Empathy test. Picking up on one of the main themes of the film, this odd but intriguing little feature allows you to take an empathy test and will provide you with a conclusion based on the answers you provide to some open-ended questions about attitudes and opinions.
-Brain map and Brain facts. A text-heavy feature that attempts to teach viewers about the workings of the brain.
It took me a few viewings to really appreciate and enjoy the content of this film. It has some excellent foundations and is built into a completely unique visual experience with superbly detailed sets and costumes. Personally, I would have preferred a bit of a deeper insight into the science fiction side of things, with a greater explanation of the technology and its functionality. It's strange in a way as this is a brave film taking big risks that draw it well away from what you'd expect from a mainstream Hollywood film starring Jennifer Lopez, but on the other hand, there are some heavily clichéd parts to the plot and the sub-par acting and dialogue means that it doesn't really reach its full potential. I absolutely adore the inner-mind scenes and these completely stand out in quality and beauty against any other film that I've ever watched. I'm so glad that I persevered and decided to watch it again. I am now keen to seek out some of Singh's other films and see how his work has developed since The Cell. I would definitely recommend adding this DVD to your collection.
Summary: A unique visual experience