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Cell - Blu-ray Review

Title: Cell


HTS Overall Score:65

After finishing up my Stephen King trio this last week, I find myself given a brand NEW Stephen King movie to review, but sadly this one comes with much worse results than his classics. “Cell” is taken from the 2006 novel that King wrote and adapted into film. I haven’t read the novel as I haven’t read much of King’s newer works over the years, but I hear it’s actually a pretty decent book. Not one of his best, but not like his early 70s schlock that took him a weekend to write so he could make rent either (King is famous for knocking out books in like a week back when he was younger). The premise of using a cell phone signal to propagate an entire wave of zombies is a novel concept, but the execution (not to mention the ending) leave the viewer with a sort of sour feeling in their mouth.

The movie starts right off the bat with the inciting incident. Graphic novelist Clay Riddell (John Cusack) is in the middle of Boston international airport when all of a sudden those people who are on their cell phones are suddenly turned into raving lunatics. Slashing and tearing at everyone around them they slaughter everyone in sight, and drive the lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) few people who weren’t stuck with those little devices to their ears into hiding. It’s fairly obvious to the viewer what has happened. Some strange cell phone signal took over the airways in masse, turning everyone listening into some sort of zombie (although I would say they’re more like the rage beasts in “28 Days Later” than anything). Teaming up with subway driver Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson) and young Alice Maxwell (Isabelle Fuhrman), Clay tries to make his way across the nation to find out if his wife and son are still alive.

Things aren’t easy for the group, being that they have an entire population of cell phone addicts who are now members of the zombie horde in their way. Clay, Tom and Alice have to sneak in and out of dark corners as they try their best to keep silent and away from the monster who will tear them apart at the slightest sound. As they progress more and more is learned about the creatures and it becomes obvious that not only are they evolving, but they have a leader who is at the heart of the entire thing.

This is a Stephen King story, and as such there are quite a few things that are left unanswered or vague. Where does the signal come from? Why is it controlling them? And what exactly is it doing to them? However this goes beyond the usual King questions that are raised. The first half of the movie actual does decently well, as we really only need to know THAT the people are being turned into mindless beasts from the signal, not WHY. However, once we delve into the final 45 minutes things get a little stickier. Especially with the red hoody ringleader of the zombies who is invading everyone’s dream. That particular storyline is handles EXTREMELY poorly, leading the viewer along in the hopes that we get some sort of expectation only to have those hopes dashed against the proverbial rocks.

The scope of the story is hampered a little bit by the low budget. You can tell that there is a lot more to the story than the movie can do within a 98 minute runtime, but that low budget keeps the tale from really evolving past the limited framework that it is given. I would like to say that the concept is pretty nifty, but there are way too many old fashioned and clichéd zombie tropes thrown in that the intelligence of the original concept gets lost in the background after a while. Then of course there is the doozy of an ending. While the rest of the movie isn’t GREAT, the ending just dives straight off a cliff into the bowels of horrible, no good, bad storytelling that it’s almost laughable. There are actually 3 endings to the movie that are crammed together, almost like they couldn’t figure out how to end the movie and choose which one they wanted, so they just strung all three together in hopes that we would just pick the one we liked the most.


Rated R for disturbing violent content, terror, brief sexuality and language

The 2.40:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray from Lionsgate looks rather good, but is a tad inconsistent in the way it looks too. The film is dimly lit form the get go, and while there are some brightly lit scenes, likes to bathe in the shadows, lit by flickering candle light or dull lightbulbs. Fine detail is usually good, especially up close and personal, but there is also a layer of gauziness that makes for a bit of a hazy image many times. There is also some rather significant banding that comes and goes throughout the 98 minutes, and can show up out of nowhere and then vanish into a smooth and clean looking image. Skin tones are a hair bit yellowish, but the color grading is fairly minimal, with only a light teal look to the film. The inconsistencies are really the weak part of the film, as the image can be clear and clean one moment, only to look gauzy and showing banding the next. It doesn’t help that the effects are really weak due to the budget and the HD image call attention to those flaws in a rather uncomfortable way.

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio on the disc fares a little bit better. While the film is definitely a low budget undertaking and the mix is a bit lighter than a big blockbuster, “Cell” manages to eek out a really nice audio experience that brings some real aggression to the table now and again. The film can be very dialog dependent, and those vocals are firmly anchored up front in the center channel and clear of any major distortions or imbalances with the rest of the track. The surrounds are fairly mild, but they do sparkle with life in many a scene, bringing the crackling of a fire from the background into the listening position, as well as the roar and crash of a car crunching over sleeping zombie bodies. The LFE can be mild, but also very intense when called upon (the opening scene with the planes crashing into the building brought some serious vibration to my walls).


• Audio Commentary with Director Tod Williams
• “To Cell and Back” Featurette
• Previews


“Cell” is sadly the weakest Stephen King adaptation that I’ve seen to date, even beating out “1408” (which ironically also starred John Cusack years ago). I’ve never read the source material as I haven’t been reading king for some years, but it feels very constrained on screen and the low budget doesn’t help the film either. It really doesn’t do the script any justice and the tired old zombie (or rage monsters) clichés just felt a little tired and threadbare to really bring anything new to the genre. It wasn’t as horrible as I had expected with an 8% rotten tomatoes score, but this is in no way a good movie either. Personally I’d skip it.

Additional Information:

Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman
Directed by: Tod Williams
Written by: Adam Alleca (Screenplay), Stephen King (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Runtime: 98 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: September 27th 2016

Buy Cell On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Skip It

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