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If there’s one thing I love, it’s psychological thrillers. What I love even more is a psychological thriller with a sci-fi or monster movie edge to it. It’s for this reason that the earlier works of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg work so well for me. It’s also because of this that Paul Holbrook’s Cell started off very strong with me. It is a perfect recreation of these great director’s styles – from the Cronenbergian atmosphere of unease from an unknown source, to a score reminiscent of Carpenter.
The story is not a complex one, it’s just very weird. A cowardly Allied Forces soldier is captured by the Nazi’s and thrown into a cell with a naked woman. The two of them have nothing but fear and suspicion for each other – but must soon find a way to trust each other when the experiments begin. What follows can only be described as Saw meets The Thing.
From the get go, I loved the cinematography of Cell. The set designs and lighting are utilised very well. This makes the whole film feel claustrophobic. The unease felt in every frame is on par with an ‘80’s Cronenberg or an early 2000’s Neil Marshall film. You are on edge all the way to the big reveal at the end. There is no denying how effective it was, and it had me wanting to see more. With Cell being only nine minutes long, the hook straight away is of great importance. The score has its moments of blaring out, namely during credits and title cards – but it’s mostly subtle and very well blended into the scenes.
I also thought that Cell was well acted. The performers give a good show. They convey both fear and disbelief at everything that transpires. Many moments in this film are uncomfortable, although this is mostly due to the costumes and make-up, I think. The basic image of a naked woman locked-up in a small cell with a man with a gun is always going to be an unsettling one. But it’s never played to the point of disturbing the viewer, due to the performances and the colours scheme.
But that’s also where Cell’s shortcoming fall. After seeing the film, I struggled to remember it. It honestly left no lasting impact on me after viewing it. It’s pretty tragic, because the first few seconds grabbed me so well. I struggled to find out what caused this lack of impact. I do feel that part of it is that, outside of some creative imagery and the gory climax, nothing shocked me. I was never disturbed or upset by the film. And considering that it was a parody of the horrors of mankind, that is a bit of a problem. It lacked teeth that it sorely needed to imbed itself in my memory.
I think what didn’t help was the voices used. There’s a voice over an intercom and a character in the film’s final minute who both have really silly voices. This was used to take away the humanity from these characters – I assume this was to strike a kind of uncanny valley effect; making the voices different, but not so much, to hit the point of being creepy. But no. It was just silly to listen to. This wouldn’t have bothered me if there was this camp tone or underlying humour to Cell, but there isn’t. It just jarred too much that it completely took me out of the film whenever these characters talked.
Cell works in its own way. It is a dark parody of mankind’s cruelty and delivers some nice themes of hope and mercy beneath all the violence. It just doesn’t have enough weight to be memorable. It’s a case of ticking the boxes, which it does very well. But I can’t deny that I have seen better psychological thrillers – some even shorter than this. I do recommend Cell for all it achieves, and I do hope that it gets recognised as a fun thriller. If not a memorable one.
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