The Horror Honeys: Cell: Ten Years Too Late

Cell: Ten Years Too Late

A WEB EXCLUSIVE Zombie Honey Review with Bella

Cell (2016)

Ten years ago the age of digital consumption was rising and it was terrifying and liberating. The ability to be in constant communication was equal parts an advancement in socialization and a hinderance. The world at your fingertips feeding information to the masses and creating a culture of information, opinion, education, and trolling. There was enough there to be intrigued by and to be horrified by.

There were, and are, camps of people who think we consume too much; being attached to our digital devices separates us from being attached to our people. And, camps of people who believe the exact opposite. There are those that would/do use the internet for good - to reach out and “meet” new people and expand their personalities and horizons. And, those would/have found a place to hide behind an anonymous identity to send threats and lies the world over.

There’s no doubt that the onset of this digital culture would make for a scary story - no matter which camp you belong to. Watching it all unfold and forge a new kind of horde of digital consumerism is a feast for any horror fan’s eyes.

But, that was ten years ago.

Wait... maybe this is really a conspiracy theory movie.
Stephen King wrote Cell in the same vein as Dawn of the Dead, and as a novel written at the precipice of the emerging digital-horde-hive-mind culture I’m sure it was brilliant in its commentary and fright factor. Unfortunately, the movie was ten years too late. Today, the singularity has folded in on itself and become self-aware of the evils it brings with it. We have memes explaining why this contact-culture is good and we are - albeit slowly - piecing together laws to protect the inhabitants of the internet.

Also, there’s science. Basic fucking biology that tells us our brains aren’t going to be taken over by our cell phones. Sure, we may get a tumor, but we’ll still have our own free will.

I can’t speak to what Cell, as a novel, does or doesn’t well - I haven’t read it. But, I can tell you that the movie just falls flat across the board. It lies relatively adjacent to some fantastic zombie movies that came before it that managed to do something different with the genre in both an elegant and masterful way.

I love you, phone.
Cell opens with Clay Riddel (John Cusack) attempting to use his phone to contact his estranged family at an airport. When his battery dies he relies on the use of a pay phone (good luck finding one of those these days) to finish his bleak conversation. As he says his goodbyes, the airport patrons - all of whom are connected to their digital devices - begin to go berserk. What ensues is an action sequence so sloppy it’s like driving by an accident and rubber necking.

Who let these mother fucking zombies into these mother fucking woods?
Clay escapes the chaos and teams up with Tom (Samuel L Jackson). They make their way through the digital-zombie-horde to find weapons to arm themselves with and a headmaster (played by Stacey Keach - who deserves so much better) that is the expositive plot-giver-awayer. We learn from the headmaster that the cell signal (because apparently there is only one carrier in Cell) has been hijacked and taken over the bio-circuit of these “phoners” (yeah, because zombies is a ridiculous name) brains and turned them into one giant hive-mind-horde. We also learn that flame-throwers are pretty awesome, but we already knew that part.

Godsdamned mouth breathers.
What we didn’t know is that there’s apparently a “king of the internet” and he’s the one to blame for these new mouth-music-breathers (at one point, the horde opens their mouths as they “reboot” and some scratchy music plays through them like a phonograph, may I remind you about BIOLOGY?). Not only is the king of the internet controlling these “phoners” like some voodoo king, but he has also, somehow, managed to tap into the unaffected’s brains to give them nightmares about himself. If that’s not a cry to be found and torched, I don’t know what is.

Yes, this is exactly what I think the "king of the internet" would look like.
And that’s just what Clay sets out to do as he continues his mission to find his estranged family and locate a place that is cell-free to live happily ever after. But, this is a King story, so that’s hardly the actual case. In a lame attempt at an underlying plot twist, Clay is a graphic novelist who may or may not have been in control of the king of the internet the whole time. Which doesn’t even matter at the end of the movie, because Cell ends with another twist that is so random it basically throws the entirety of the movie right out the window.

This is just too happy to be the end... Oh, right...
I said earlier that Cell runs relatively adjacent to some other great zombie films, let me explain. Pontypool used language to tap into people’s mind and turn them into zombies; Cell attempts this with a digital signal controlled by a person, but there is no panache to the infection. We are machines, of a sort, but we are not mechanical. The “phoners” in Cell seem rage induced, like the zombies from 28 Days Later, but their action sequences are a mess and it’s never explained if the digital take-over is some sort of virus causing the rage attacks or what. The commentary on consumerism is pretty closely related to that of Dawn of the Dead, except in Cell we’re thrown into the middle of it. Cell already assumes we know and believe that digital consumerism is a bad thing, rather than building to it and informing the audience of WHY it could be a bad thing.

Oh, and not a zombie movie but still: the hive-mind aspect was reminiscent of Slither, except without Nathan Fillion, so that’s a mega-fail.

When are we getting that zombie movie about litter bugs?
There’s some pretty weighty stuff that could have made for an excellent, and terrifying, zombie film in Cell, but I’m not sure the writers/directors new how to handle it so far removed from the decade in which it was written. In the digital age things change so quickly that what we think is going to be the new tech-scare is swiftly replaced with a meme, a cat, or an understanding of how that singularity works. Ten years ago that understanding was just coming to light - today, we get it. No need to spell it out for us.

Also, and yes, I know, this is a zombie movie and the cause for zombies is usually pretty ridiculous, but I just want to reiterate that whole BIOLOGY thing.

RATING: 1 Samuel L. Jackson Couldn’t Even Save This Mother Fucking Movie

(NOTE: I also really hated the opening credit sequence design. Like, really hated it.)