This film adaptation of the Stephen King novel has been out for a couple of years now but I recorded it from television around Halloween and watched it this weekend. I read the book a few years ago and did enjoy it. I found it interesting at the time as it was the first book from King after his serious accident which really caught my attention. By this time most people had small palm-sized cell phones, and so the concept of this story was something which could pull you in easily.
I had forgotten a lot of the main story and only really remembered the troubled production issues the film experienced and then later the mixed or negative responses once the film was released. Having watched it, I actually did not think it was too bad. I noticed that King co-wrote the screenplay and so must have wanted to be sure that it would transfer to the big screen in a way that he wanted to see when writing the book possibly.
So CELL is one of very many recent post-apocalyptic movies, and in a way sort of a zombie movie. The people who are changed by the sudden strange phone signal are not ever called zombies in the movie, but the occurrence is viewed as a kind of mass epidemic. When the book was published the film 28 Days Later had already started the ball rolling in pop culture bringing zombies back to the fore of horror. Since then and through the 00’s we’ve had so many riffs on the zombie/post-apocalyptic concept-extreme horror versions, parodies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, huge Hollywood budget takes such as I Am Legend and World War Z and even the Godfather of Zombie movies Romero returned with Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead with varied results.
It is probably I Am Legend which CELL most closely resembles and possibly even works better than in some ways. While many people also dissed that Will Smith blockbuster movie of the classic and hugely influential genre novel, these movies both share a similar cinematic atmosphere of dread and modern unease. There is a fear of loneliness and technological paranoia through both movies, as well as a hint of post-911 terror anxiety.
I actually was big fan of I Am Legend, certainly the first half of the movie which is for the most part almost dialogue free and simply followed Will Smith through his lonely daily routine and we observe his isolated experience and the effects on his character.
With the movie CELL, within minutes the main character played by John Cusack joins with Samuel L Jackson and they move across the country to find his wife and son. They join with a small number of other desperate and surviving individuals on their journey. This tale being based on a King novel, is no simple zombie splatter flick-though the gore and visual effects are really up there along with some of the most realistic from Tom Savini-it sees the masses of people affected by the phone signal ‘evolving’ together acting almost like insects or animals.
I actually could have sat through a longer version of this film and that may have been due to the casting Cusack or Jackson but also the different take on zombie concept. I thought it possibly could have done a lot more. We are at a time when one of the most popular shows on the planet is The Walking Dead, which is all about a small group of distinctive survivors working together against the zombie masses on a daily basis. I am not really a fan of the show (I know, sorry people!) but still do like zombie and post-apocalyptic or dystopian films and novels which have something different to offer.
There were some moments where I did want to yell at the screen ‘Don’t touch that phone!’ or ask why are they going in that building, and some characters and scenes which seemed a little lazy or predictable. It does features some elements which are quite familiar to other King books or films such as The Stand but I still continued watching until the end. Not a perfect movie, but not really as bad as you may have heard either.
James Parsons is a UK author of horror novel Northern Souls- available now as paperback/ebook from all good bookshops and online. He has previously published two science fiction novels as James E. Parsons, Orbital Kin and Minerva Century also available as paperback,hardback, ebook from bookshops and online now.