STARRING: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber

2000, 108 Minutes, Directed by: Tarsem Singh

Description: Schizoid serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio) has been captured at last, but a neurological seizure has rendered him comatose, and FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughan) has no way to determine the location of Stargher's latest and still-living victim. To probe the secrets contained in Stargher's traumatized psyche, the FBI recruits psychologist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), who has mastered a new technology that allows her to enter the mind of another person.

I can't remember the last time I was so impressed by a film as seriously flawed as The Cell.

The film's plot - about a virtual reality device that allows a person to enter the mind of another, in this case the mind of a serial killer - merely serves as a clothes hanger unto which director Tarsem Singh can hang all his visual imagery. The acting isn't particularly good (just who the heck in Hollywood decided that pop singer Jennifer Lopez can act?!), the dialogue is clunky and the film's outcome predictable. Dramatically The Cell doesn't work overall, but it shines in the scenes set "inside" the serial killer's mind.

To recap: the Lopez character must enter a serial killer's mind via said VR machine to save the life of one of his victims who is held captive in a death trap device within a certain period of time.

However, its excellent production values - from its visual sense to its costumes and a music score by Cronenburg regular Howard Shore (reminiscent of the one John Corigliano did for Altered States) - prevents it from being merely The Lawnmower Man meets The Matrix as my movie companion derisively remarked as we exited the cinema.

"Its imagery is dark, disturbing and sinister . . ."

Which brings us to another thing: opinion seems to be seriously divided on The Cell. A friend of mine whose opinions I trust and are at times expressed in guest reviews on this web site warned me beforehand that it is "half detective, half exploration of the subconscious through dreams. On both accounts it's weak in plot, imagination, acting. Ecchhh!"

I can only agree with certain aspects of his prognosis, but The Cell is definitely not weak in imagination. In fact its visuals simply blew me away: it is as if Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst all collaborated on the movie! To my mind The Cell is the best movie since that staple of 1930s surrealism Un Chien Andalou to capture the state of dreaming. Or, in this case, nightmares.

The Cell plays like a flip coin version of What Dreams May Come, the overly sentimental flick of about two years ago in which Robin Williams dies and goes to heaven (unlikely, I know, yeah - especially if God happens to be a movie critic).

The imagery in The Cell is dark, disturbing and sinister. A friend of mine who watches more horror movies than is healthy for any sane person admitted to being upset by aspects of The Cell. Why don't some people like it? I suppose they find it pretentious. I don't know. I didn't. In a year dominated by the derivative likes of Battlefield Earth and Mission to Mars, The Cell might just end up being the year's best sci-fi movie (even though it is more horror than SF to be honest).

Recommended if you know whom Damien Hirst, Francis Bacon and Salvador Dali are . . .


# 72
of the
Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies
of all time



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