Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Cell



  The Cell is not a movie for the faint of heart. It's actually a pretty disturbing head trip. When so many movies nowadays use their antagonist merely as a neglected plot device to get the ball rolling, The Cell turns the camera directly on the bad guy here, the killer and the movie is all about what makes him tick. It's scary, it's original, it's amazing.

  Rather than being just a slow burn character study on the nature of a serial killer or something to that effect, director Tarsem Singh has produced a rapid fire thriller while managing to make it a character study at the same time. Its pacing is great and it juggles a few levels of the same story,  which is about a social worker (Jennifer Lopez) who's working at this institute place in this very science fiction-y procedure where they put her mind into the mind of a coma patient, and her consciousness can poke around in there to try and find the problem and get him to come out. The movie opens inside said coma patient's subconscious and its quite a set piece, quite the punch to open the movie with. You might think it sets the tone... but the tone isn't set until you start seeing dead bodies. And you ultimately know that she's sooner or later going to have to enter the killer's mind for some reason or another.

  The early scenes with the killer, played effectively by Vincent D'onofrio, serve as kind of a series of warnings saying, if you can't handle this stuff, get out now. Granted if you've seen films like Se7en, Videodrome, Jacob's Ladder and/or anything else by Tarsem Singh, you might be a little more well prepared for the inevitable horrors you'll see when Lopez's character must take the trip into his twisted mind. Now, all the actors here do a more than servicable job with their roles. However nobody exceptionally owns their part. Though to be honest, aside from D'onofrio's killer, "Stargher", the characters are pretty standard fare. The dedicated detective (Vince Vaughn) who's a cop because of some sad tragedy he witnessed in his past which he'll inevitably tell to the do gooder social worker who sees the good in everybody, which... inevitably will lead her to see "the good" in our serial killer, which is cleverly and accurately portrayed in his mind as his child self.

  We're introduced to the mechanics and look of the mind bending process immediately after the opening. It looks cool, and matches the odd and creepy tone of the movie. The two people who're getting their minds merged in a way, are wearing these stylized bodysuits that look like the human musculatory system, and they're suspended in midair by super thin, high tensile wires. It looks like they're floating. Which is a recurring theme in the movie. But what works exceptionally well is the fact, there is a ticking clock in this movie. Before the killer is captured he has a kidnapped woman trapped in a tank somewhere thats slowly filling with water. The whole contrapment is automated, and she'll drown if they don't get to her by a certain time. This brings us to J Lo's involvement. She must probe Stargher's mind and get him to divulge where he's hid the woman.

  Inside his mind, which is a veritable pandora's box of horrors and terrifying imagery, she has to find and chase around the scared and abused version of his childhood self,  hoping to appeal to his 'inner child'. In his head, she sees memories that he has of his horrifying childhood at the hands of a brutally abusive father. Its so terrible in fact, that it humanizes the killer. The notion that a movie's vicious villain may actually have trauma in his past that drove him to do the things he does may be severely unnerving to some, distasteful to others, and perhaps even outright offensive. People tend to like things clear cut in thrillers like this. The bad guy is bad and entirely unforgivable, lets hunt him down and murder him for his crimes. I get it. I get why that would be cathartic in a society like this. But seeing this poor boy brutalized at the hands of his father and subjected to horrible things... makes you wonder about the same judgemental society.

  The Cell doesn't point fingers or offer solutions. It simply illustrates that these horrible serial killers are actually people. Horribly messed up people who commit attrocities, but they are just people. And through Stargher, we see that often, these horrible people were actually victims themselves at one time. Their mind is broken, and something is wrong. Are they actually evil, or just capable of evil?  The line in this movie isn't blurred or even much addressed, but it's just one of the things you may find yourself thinking about when it's over. I didn't feel sorry for the grown man who would drown these women and turn them into his dolls so to speak, but I did feel sorry for the little boy who's father abused him so relentlessly and mercilessly. They are in fact the one and same person. More food for thought.

  I can imagine plenty of moviegoers hated this movie. They went for a simple somewhat scary summer sci-fi thriller, and got that- and a whole lot more too. They got deep social, ethical, moral and gravely serious questions raised right in their faces. Questions they weren't prepared to even think about. Let alone attempt to come up with an answer. It's full of images and scenes so disturbingly bloody, and unnervingly graphic, and confusing and fundamentally psychologically penetrating that people might not want to get that close to such a disturbing character.

  In fact, it's so psychologically penetrating it really feels like you're getting a peek into someone's mind. Sets and scenes flow like thoughts and sweeping macabre vistas host the darkest parts of his killer mind. It's so impressive. This stuff alone is worth seeing it for. It's truly scary and disturbing on a very deep level precisely because it desconstructs the villain on such an intimate level. In order to save a life, our do-gooder protagonist has to see the good in a man most would consider to be evil incarnate... and her playing field, is inside the darkest... most disorienting... most terrifying place imaginable...

his mind.

If your intrest is piqued and you can stand all the freakiness, than the Cell, is a 12 year old ride that holds up so well, its worth every second of your time and money to find and watch it. Even despite a disappointing final set piece, its still a massive scary thrill ride thats exceedingly unique. I give it a recommendation.


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