Wooden performances and by-the-numbers filmmaking turn Stephen King's intelligent novel into a rote genre exercise
The curse of the Stephen King adaptation strikes once again in Cell, an insipid and often ludicrous adaptation of the author's 2006 tech-horror novel. As with previous adaptations like Dreamcatcher and Under The Dome, the enthralling source material has been squeezed and dumbed down into a pat, forgettable genre misfire. This is disappointing not just because of the potential of the source material, but also because director Tod Williams previously helmed the vivid, multi-layered Door in the Floor (2004).
Here, graphic novelist Clay Riddell (a wooden, waxy John Cusack) has just arrived home in Boston when every mobile phone user is hit with a strange pulse which turns them into violent crazies. Teaming up with train driver Tom McCourt (Samuel L Jackson, somewhat-fittingly phoning it in), Clay must make his way through the now-burning city to find his son, fighting both the so-called 'phoners', who appear to be developing a psychic link with each other, and increasingly vivid hallucinations that threaten his grip on reality.
While King's novel was written before the smart-phone became quite such a ubiquitous modern addiction, screenwriter Adam Alleca (2009's The Last House on the Left remake) has made no attempt to bring the narrative up to date. Cell phones are merely the device which administers the shock; despite the inference of the premise, there's no real exploration, sub-textual or otherwise, of how constant connection to our phones may be turning us into social zombies, or how the internet-enabled, globally connected hive mind can be as destructive as it is empowering.
Instead, Cell plays like the most straightforward of horror, complete with endless exposition as dialogue and frequent leaps of logic which demonstrate this may have been better as a mini-series. Aesthetically, too, it's just as dull and predictable, with a now-familiar washed out post-apocalyptic colour palette, over-eager music cues and shaky effects.
This blunt-edged approach means that there's absolutely nothing to connect with, narratively or visually, and by the time we finally reach the film's climactic sequence of a vast horde of mindless phoners trudging endlessly round a giant phone mast, any empathy lies firmly with them.
General release from Fri 26 Aug.