All Reviews, Horror, Science Fiction

The Cell

I’ve always felt that, were we to ever learn how to tap into and record our dreams, we’ll see things that are so over-the top, so bizarre, and so frightening that we may not be able to handle them. I hope I’m alive when this breakthrough arrives, because it will be the single greatest moment in horror cinema the world has ever known. Imagine the era of creativity that will begin; we will truly start seeing things we have never seen before, and it will usher in some brilliant, terrifying films.

“The Cell” may not be one of those films, but it tries hard to be, and winds up hitting the mark more often than the J-Lo backlash surrounding it would have you believe. It is set in a time when modern technology has enabled us to transport our mental beings into the mind of another person. Specifically, it focuses on one mind-jumping therapist (Lopez) who specializes in schizophrenia. When she is called upon by the FBI to enter the mind of serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) in order to discover where his latest victim has been hidden, the fun really begins.

Visually, the film is stunning. Set design is purposefully sparse, but extremely creative. Unfortunately, because the film relies so heavily on CGI effects, it feels a bit dated in spots, but these moments are few and far between. Inside Stargher’s mind, there are so many moments of creative near-genius (such as his museum full of his “toys”, or his purple cape – you’ll know it when you see it; I don’t want to ruin anything) that I can forgive the not-so-polished spots.

Speaking of Stargher, is there anyone more versatile than Vincent D’Onofrio? He’s easily in the same league as Gary Oldman (and they’re probably the only two) of actors who just absolutely vanish into their roles. I honestly believe the man could wear a Smurfette costume and still be menacing if he wanted. He plays several incarnations of his character in this film, and doesn’t disappoint in any of them.

The score has to be mentioned as well. The Middle-Eastern tinged music is unusual in a horror film and its hypnotic quality is effective in helping to create suspense.

Of course, “The Cell” isn’t perfect. A couple of bad attempts at jump scenes (do these ever work anymore?) get things off to a rocky start. Thankfully, these are the only two such attempts in the film; the rest relies wholly upon atmosphere and tension to carry it through. Another complaint I have is Vince Vaughn as the lead FBI investigator. While not exactly miscast, he doesn’t bring much to the role, either. I like Vaughn, but he’s not a very emotive actor and, in this film, some of his dialogue feels especially forced, particularly the scene between him and Lopez in the courtyard. Additionally, there are moments of just plain silliness. It is odd, for example, how they just happen to have form-fitting suits ready for any person who happens to need one (these are apparently essential in the mind-jumping process).

“The Cell” contains only a little true gore (and only a few breasts), but while I would have liked to have seen more (of both), I still had fun exploring Stargher’s mind. Now, watch the film, and then imagine the day we can get inside THIS guy’s mind. I shudder to think of the possibilities.

A Useless Bit of Trivia: One infamous scene in the film was inspired by THIS piece of art by Damien Hirst.

Pros: Exceptionally creative set pieces and premise. One breath-taking moment of the famous J-Lo Booty in bikini briefs.
Cons: A bit too CGI laden. Some effects already feel dated.
Review Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“The Cell” (2000)
107 Minutes; USA
Rated R for bizarre violence and sexual images, nudity and language.

Jennifer Lopez (Catherine Deane)
Vince Vaghn (FBI Agent Peter Novak)
Vincent D’Onofrio (Carl Rudolph Stargher)
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Viewing Format: DVD

(Originally published on HorrorWatch)


About John Daily

John is a freelance writer, columnist and critic. His work has appeared in print, as well as on sites such as ScifiWatch and HorrorWatch (where he wrote under the complete meaningless moniker “Bloody Taco”). An archive of his film-related material is available at Currently, he can be found spouting his special brand of sarcastic nonsense at or Twitter (JohnNDaily).


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