The Cell - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Cell Reviews

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July 8, 2016
When I first saw this movie, about half a year after it was released on DVD, I was in the middle of a pretty exciting time in my life in terms of film digestion. I had just recently absorbed "The Holy Mountain", "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover", "Le Nain Rouge", and maybe a dozen other films that are known for not only being very unique but also very unusual. I was obtaining more and more obscure films to watch and had come to expect a lot from anything I put in my player.

My first impression after I was done watching The Cell was that it was cheap and cliche, that it had borrowed from many sources but did not prove to be much of a source of entertainment on its own. I felt like the ending was very unfulfilling and that the story was too predictable. It struck me as existing strictly in the horror genre and relying too heavily on flashy special effects to shock and wow the audience into submission so that they would not pay any attention to the hollow story and the terrible acting.

At the time, I did not have any sort of feelings one way or the other toward Vincent D'Onofrio as an actor. I had not yet seen D'Onofrio in "Law & Order" and so had not yet developed a disdain for what I would come to refer to as his "pinnochio-like acting".

Over time I came to begrudge having to ever see Vincent D'Onofrio in anything. Every time I saw him acting all I saw was 2x4's and tree stumps. For me, D'Onofrio came to epitomize "wooden". I likened him to a cactus and a wooden puppet in various reviews.

Now we fast-forward fifteen or so years, to early 2016. An entertainment fan-girl who made her way to a celebrity status of her own mentioned her love of this movie and D'Onofrio on Twitter, and I balked. How can someone with such great taste enjoy this movie, and more importantly how can she admire D'Onofrio so much? But Comic Book Girl 19 insisted to me that if I were to re-watch the film with an eye for D'Onofrio's performance, not only would I come away with a complete re-evaluation of this movie I would also come away doing a complete 180-degree turn on my stance on D'Onofrio.

So, I promised her that I would watch the movie and that if I did, indeed, change my mind about either the film or D'Onofrio then I would come back here and write a better review.

Well, I did watch it and honestly I was quite shocked. Actually ,Vincent D'Onofrio's performance is key to this film's entertainment value. Not only that, but evaluating his performance here gives insight into his performance in later TV and pictures.

The Cell is rich with a huge assortment of both practical and digital effects, blended very nearly seamlessly. As it turns out -- as I learned from one of the several production commentary tracks on the DVD -- every bit of information about every shot was recorded in a database. Time of day, light quality, height, zoom, pan, tilt, motion, filters, and much more were all recorded assiduously into a database that could be referred back to if a shot needed something more added to it either through the camera or through rendering. And this attention to detail, along with the director's personality and approach to film making, allowed the talent of numerous individuals to shine rather thoroughly.

So while 15 years ago it was very easy to watch The Cell with an eye jaded by the constant and growing deluge of digitally rendered effects films, and to dismiss it as just another CG-heavy attempt at selling something that isn't all that exciting on its own, watching it now I see just how different it is from many other CG films. Not just in terms of vision but in terms of execution. The digital effects here are mostly meant to accomplish the impossible, wherever the practical effects fall short of the laws of physics. But the practical effects are just absolutely remarkable. Watching The Cell as "another CG movie" does a huge, huge disservice to the practical effects work done therein and shows a profound lack of appreciation for practical effects, for makeup, for costuming, and most importantly of all a complete lack of any interest whatsoever in interpretive dance.

I'm not sure if many people have given much mention of D'Onofrio's dancing in The Cell. I haven't read many reviews of the film. But it is sort of one of the best qualities of his performance. Sure, his real-world character is unhinged but he's also kind of deadened and boring. And sure, his fantasy-world character is covered in amazing making and wearing amazing costumes, but he also moves with litheness and strength reminiscent of ballet interpretation.

When I saw that, and when I saw the vulnerability D'Onofrio puts into his villain sociopath, I realized that D'Onofrio is far from wooden. But I didn't know what I was seeing that made me think that. I wanted to get back here and write this review but I had to figure out what had misled me for so long about D'Onofrio. I had a suspicion, though, and talking with another critic confirmed for me that my suspicion was correct. It's not D'Onofrio, it's the writing.

People have come to seek out D'Onofrio for characters that are best when done stiff, unreadable and anti-social. And it's not entirely the writers who are to blame. People don't always write for a specific actor. Instead, I have to blame D'Onofrio's agent. Just because people remember D'Onofrio most as an autistic, suicidal army private or a grumpy detective with obvious social issues, doesn't mean that those two roles show his best qualities.

I'm looking up, now at the "Critics Consensus" here at Rotten Tomatoes. "Disturbing, stunning eye candy... a weak and shallow plotline that offers nothing new."

That's what I felt, too, fifteen years ago. I agreed with that assessment 100%. But it's easy to overlook the things that make this film great. In my experience, it doesn't matter what film you're watching -- if you are not enjoying it for whatever reason, you will tear it down in criticism. You don't like the kitchen so you tear out the entire first floor. You never even notice that sure the cabinetry in the kitchen kind of sucked but you totally missed that the countertop was solid marble and the floor was tile. But it doesn't matter if those details would completely change your assessment of the kitchen -- you missed those details, and now the it's time for the first floor to go. By burning the entire thing down, preferably.

Comic Book Girl 19's challenge to me to re-watch this film and to pay special attention to D'Onofrio has definitely made me open my eyes and to second-guess my own respect for films. I kind of already enjoy looking through b-grade movies and picking out what was done right, what made it good enough to be b-grade, instead of picking out what was done wrong that kept it from being considered "better". I already consider myself somebody who gives things second chances. But I also have my tendencies, my grudges or whatever, and definitely enough jadedness to go around. I'm certain, now, that I reserve some biases that potentially cloud my judgment and result in a lack of thorough appreciation.

The story in "The Cell" is by no means entirely new or original in each of its individual elements. But you have to admit, it is the first time those elements are put together in this specific way to create this specific path. You can analyze literature in a similar fashion, by starting with folk tales, analyzing their constituent elements and carrying through a compounding of elements into modern literature. But this also does little in the way of maintaining the objective for the sake of the audience. It actually offers a million tiny things to be jaded about, to take for granted, and to fail to appreciate. Even the hollow plot comes across as a good attempt at re-using a lot of established fiction. And that even kind of makes for a good effort to get the audience to suspend disbelief: if they had come up with ideas that were completely far-out, things that nobody had done before, it would be just that much harder to accept as a potential reality. There wouldn't be a division between a real-life and a fantasy-world in the movie because the audience would just see fantasy-world and crazy-ass-fantasy-world. The film borrows so much that is already beloved in the world of fiction that its premise of the real world is just believable enough. So you see, it would be really hard to pick up on that little detail if you were jaded about the over-use of all those myriad components and just dismissed them all out of hand.

I guess I should go back and re-write my reviews that call D'Onofrio's acting wooden when it's actually just that he's not getting parts that really let him shine.

Any ways, you should watch this movie. And my advice is to do what the director obviously and transparently intended for you to do: to pay attention to D'Onofrio's character. Don't just go "ho-hum, it's a really elaborate and flashy bad guy, wow, anybody can do that". Because not everybody can pull off the flashy villain role as well as D'Onofrio does in The Cell. And his performance definitely pulls the entire movie together and makes all of its details worth watching.

Definitely a 5/5 movie.
½ July 4, 2016
Not bad psycho-horror / detective film.
Super Reviewer
½ June 22, 2016
Jennifer Lopez plays a social worker that, with the help of experimental technology, can enter someone's mind. She is hired to get into the mind of a comatose serial killer to find where he left his latest kidnap victim. Sounds like a cool premise, huh? Well, JBlow does her best to help run this one into the ground. The concept is interesting but the script is just confusing and odd. The effects are pretty good but only help to dumbfound the audience.
½ March 19, 2016
The Cell is not the type of movie I would typically watch, but I took the risk based on a recommendation. I will say that aspects of the story in this film fascinated me. I like a police procedural where they are attempting to solve a case before time runs out. I also like the addition of a futuristic technology that will be utilized to help the police. And no matter how anyone feels about the content of the film and the darkness of the story, I think everyone would have to agree that The Cell is visually amazing. Everyone from set designers to makeup artists deserve huge props for making this movie look remarkable. I have 2 big complaints that make this movie one that left me wanting more. The first one is the casting of Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn in the lead roles. I'm not sure who thought that was a good idea, but I'm not convinced either of them can act, and they certainly weren't suited to the complex roles they are asked to play in The Cell. I had some real problems with their performances. The bigger issue that I struggled with was the way the story was resolved. The setup had me excited because I thought they would either be piecing together clues or working hard to break through the killer's psychosis. But instead the case is solved in a matter of moments when Vaughn sees a small sign in the dream world, it's super disappointing, and it lets all the air out of the balloon of excitement I had built up when they got the story going. It seems that they never really intended this movie to be about the crime they were trying to solve, it was just about the director playing with some insane visuals and exploring what the inner thoughts of a psycho might look like.
March 13, 2016
I personally didn't have any trouble with The Cell's storyline, which was simplistic but remained effective and interesting. If anything concerns me about this film it is the clear takeaways from both The Matrix and Silence of the Lambs but Singh has enough of a signature visual style to make it worth it. I find it interesting that Inception, a critically well received film that also draws heavily on The Matrix and The Cell, doesn't get its fair share of criticism for essentially doing the same thing however. Additionally, this might be Lopez and Vaughn's best feature film performance and D'Onofrio is also at his best. The Cell is worth the watch just for the visuals, but it's an undeniably entertaining movie beyond that.
½ February 5, 2016
Maybe it's because it's one of the first 'grown-up movie' I was allowed to watch, but The Cell has been my favorite ever since. The unusual scenes and imaginative landscapes of this movie charmed me. It blends Science-Fiction and Horror in a natural way. Lack of depth in the plotline maybe, but Jennifer Lopez makes up for it by being stunning in her role of Catherine, a human psychiatrist who makes wellness of others her priority - but to what price?
½ January 11, 2016
Critics didn't love it but I feel it's a cult classic. Very unique idea and effects even though the acting leaves a bit to be desired. Cracks me up a bit now comedian Vince Vaughn has a leading role.
½ December 26, 2015
15 years later and I'm glad that horrible Jennifer Lopez phase has left us. The Cell, most likely now a cult classic, has an immense amount on offer, its bold, daring and at times pretty unsettling, its also unbelievably gorgeous from start to finish. It's problem is its script and performances, which ultimately make this film a visual feast and sadly not much more. When a psychotic serial killer is captured after falling into a coma, detectives have a huge problem on their hands, as one of his victims whereabouts lay only with him. With the clock ticking, the law has no other option but to attempt a new scientific proceedure that would allow Jay Lo to wander about inside the killers warped dreams, in search for his secret. As a story and an idea, this is what movies were made for, its bold, offers up the opportunity to really dazzle and pretty much allows any director to break every rule in the book and get away with it. So what is wrong with The Cell? Well for starters the acting across the board is pretty abysmal, I'm unsure if the director just wasnt interested or too caught up in his visual mastery to care. But casting Jennifer Lopez as a leading lady is just about as close to criminal as you can get, her performance is bland, wooden and atrocious any time she opens her mouth. Vince Vaughn isnt much better, at least he can deliver some form of soul into the proceedings and Vincent D'onofrio goes full head case, with cliched head scratching's and perverse smiles, he fares the best however, as he appears to be the only actor having any fun. And although having The Cell being wildly miscast may injure it, the fact that no one stood up during takes and called an meeting with everyone to discus actually trying to perform almost kills the film stone dead. What does save this film and actually makes sense of its flaws, is its dream sequences, that thankfully take up a huge portion of this film. Why are these scenes good? Well for one, the set design, production values and cinematography are all through the roof, everyone from costume, make up, DOP and lighting all get to venture out, creating huge and vibrant dungeons for our mostly silent characters to venture through, its stonking, jaw dropping and excellent stuff, which makes it all the more painful whenever we leave the confines of our characters heads. The Cell could have been a masterpiece, it really could have, it showcases a brilliant concept in such a lavish and stunning way, its completely easy to see that all of the time and energy went into its exterior and glossed over the bigger things like, performance. Completely worth a watch, however some form of inebriation is required.
October 26, 2015
Critics are like failed gym teachers; those who can do something, do it; those who can't, teach; those who can't teach, teach gym. And those who can't do a single push-up (film-wise), become film critics. 'The Cell' is a brilliant sci-fi fim with the beautiful Jennifer Lopez.
½ October 8, 2015
I just saw this movie, in October 2015, after only knowing about it obliquely for the past 15. It came out at a time when I was too young/un-film-cultured to understand it, and I think America was too. It's very visually poetic and there is 0% chance it would be made today. However, the story is solid, the acting very good and the costumes, production design and directing are top-notch. I've no idea why it's rated so low. Tarsem Singh is an amazing director and if you haven't seen The Fall, make that the next thing you see. Not just the next movie, put down any book, TV show, magazine or other media you're consuming and watch it. Singh has such a distinct style; he's like Wes Anderson minus the kitschy family nostalgia with a little mescaline added in. So much of his composition is based on all sorts of media (music videos, art, etc) that it feels at once familiar and new. The Fall is a superior movie but D'Onfrio, JLo and Vaughn are great. This is the Vince Vaughn we should have gotten in True Detective S2. If you liked Seven and enjoy an operatic, visually striking look, you can't go wrong with The Cell.
October 3, 2015
The beautiful psychological thriller, suspense, horror, mystery that begins the new decade is essentially the precursor to the Saw series. This idea or concept was probably done even earlier in this film, but what was once one plot becomes two separate plots during the climax of the film. I enjoyed it a lot, it was crazy as all hell, but it was all about the mind, and the person she was going into to was completely crazy so it made sense for his mind to be as so as well.
Super Reviewer
½ September 30, 2015
It is certainly a gorgeous film to look at but the plot is weakened by the fact that Jennifer Lopez is seriously miscast and not at all convincing as a psychiatrist well suited for her job, especially given how the character's motivations are so unprofessional and confusing in the last act.
½ September 25, 2015
This is a very original film - it's interesting and beautiful. Worth every second of your time.
September 17, 2015
It may not have the thickest plot ever, but it's a very intensely satisfying thriller, with some of the most screwed up images i have seen in a thriller since "The Silence of the Lambs"! B+
September 14, 2015
On ne pourra jamais enlever à The Cell son originalité. Vraiment, le premier film de Tarsem Singh est visuellement très souvent du jamais-vu et l'idée en elle-même du film est loin d'être idiote. En revanche, la manière dont le film est traité l'est totalement, de la première à la dernière scène. En effet, ce thriller psychologique un peu horrifique et surtout prodigieusement ridicule (il faut voir Vincent d'Onofrio se masturber sur un cadavre et avoir des cornes de taureau ou des écailles de serpent sur certaines des scènes les plus ridicules du film) est surtout abominablement long et finit par tourner clairement à vide, malgré les efforts de Jennifer Lopez et de Vince Vaughn. Agrémenté d'un score extrêmement fatigant d'Howard Shore parfois un peu hors-sujet, The Cell est un bon gros loupé des familles, pathétique et prétentieux.
½ August 15, 2015
I love this movie!! Some striking visuals and an intriguing story.
August 13, 2015
The Cell doesn't add much in the way of plot or substance, but the imagery is striking, dark, disturbing and memorable. some of the images I can't get get out my head still. it's creepy, weird, but also stunningly beautiful. watch the movie for how it looks and you'll enjoy it.
½ August 6, 2015
Visually, The Cell is a very impressive movie, creating interesting and imaginative dreamscapes. The explorations into the unconscious are standard Hollywood dreams - weird and creepy or peaceful and beautiful, but with more internal logic than really dreams - and when the movie is in this alternate reality, it's pretty good.

Unfortunately, the movie spends a lot of time in the real world, where it's an unpleasant and unoriginal serial killer flick. The worst scenes are the fetishistically detailed portrayals of the killer torturing and killing his victims before toying with their bodies. These scenes are incredibly creepy and disturbing, which might be a plus for some people, but made the movie very difficult for me to watch.
½ August 4, 2015
Call me crazy, but this is one of those memorable cult movies in my book. Artistically directed, engaging, twisted, and creatively original, The Cell explores reaches of the mind and imagination that few other films have touched upon since. The acting may not be top-notch, but the leads manage to hold their own under the taut cinematography.
½ July 20, 2015
Weird, creepy and beautiful, Tarsem succeeds in his American debut.
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