Reviewed by Jason Coffman
Rating: 9.5 Beans
he Cell" is a very special film: not since "Belly" has a music video director released a debut feature so relentlessly unpleasant. Where McG's "Charlie's Angels" is brightly-colored and (supposedly) fun, and Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich" is subdued and very funny, Tarsem (whose biggest claim to fame is R.E.M.'s video for "Losing My Religion," or so every piece of promo material from this film will have us believe) decides to take the Hype Williams/David Fincher route. While "The Cell" does feature some amazing sights, it wallows so deeply in its horrors that it is virtually impossible to sit through.
Jennifer Lopez plays Catharine Deane, a child psychologist and empath who has been developing a system that allows her to enter the mind of another person and move about freely and communicate with the subject's subconcious. This system becomes the focus of an FBI investigation when it is discovered that serial killer Carl Stargher has suffered a massive seizure, leaving his latest victim stranded in his demonic drowning machine (the device from which the film takes its name). Her only hope is that Deane can enter Stargher's mind and attempt to somehow coax the information from him.
The previews and trailers for "The Cell" all rightly highlight the amazing world inside Stargher's head-- the scenes that take place there are truly incredible. Too bad none of those scenes are in the first 40 minutes of the film. That time is dedicated to a fairly interesting police procedural.
Unfortunately, it is also dedicated to portraying, in graphic detail, what it is that Stargher does to his victims' corpses after their time in The Cell is complete. The people sitting in front of me walked out, and had I not been with a large group of people I may well have joined them. It is shocking to me that this film, with its scenes of drowning, bathing the nude corpse in bleach, and ultimately necrophilia can sail past the MPAA with an R rating while "Eyes Wide Shut" would be marked NC-17. But that's an essay, not a review...
At any rate, Tarsem does create a palpable sense of unease and evil. Many of the scenes in Stargher's head are as disturbing as they are imaginative, and the tension is high-- not just because something horrible might happen to the characters, but because God only knows what the director and his production designers might have in store for our poor raped eyes next.
I can't imagine anyone saying that they really "enjoyed" "The Cell." It's not a film that is meant to be enjoyed, I think. No doubt Tarsem wanted to bring to the serial killer genre a new depth and perhaps even a new visual vocabulary; the problem with making a film this visionary is that some people are bound to be turned off. I guess that's why the first half of the film is spent on murder and necrophilia, to reel in the audiences.
Of course, on my way out of the theatre, the only thing I heard said about the film was "Jennifer Lopez got a sweet azzzzzzz!" Which may well sum up the feelings of many people. Too bad those people will now forever associate Jennifer Lopez with visions of bleached corpses and massive body peircings.
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