Forgotten Gems: The Cell

Nerdling Tales takes a mostly spoiler free look at cult classics mostly overlooked by the public, movies that failed so hard they won, and the “what in the hell were they thinking” flicks. Join her as she reminisces about what makes these movies so interesting and full of hopeful sequel potential, and yet the general movie going population tends to forget their existence. It is October, so you know it will be all about the scares this month!

Continuing on with the theme of weird and creepy, let visit Tarsem Singh’s feature directorial debut in The Cell.

Release: August 18, 2000
Director: Tarsem Singh
Writer: Mark Protosevich
Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Catherine Sutherland, Jake Weber, Dean Norris, John Cothran, Jake Thomas

The Cell is about the FBI enlisting the help of an experimental psychological treatment to get into the head of a comatose serial killer in order to find his latest victim before she drowns to death. The killer, Carl Stargher (D’Onofrio) stalks his latest victim, Anne (Sutherland), before abducting her and bringing her to an isolated facility. In the facility Anne is kept in a large tank for a few days before the sprinkler system turns on and slowly fills the tank with water. An FBI team, led by Gordon Ramsey (Weber) and Peter Novack (Vaughn), figure out who Stargher is and where he lives. Before they can bring their man in, Carl falls into a coma for reasons. Enter child psychologist Catherine Deane (Lopez) and her virtual reality machine that allows her to enter the mind of her young patient to attempt to bring him out of his coma. Ramsey and Novack convince her to enter Carl’s mind in order to find the location Anne before time runs out and she drowns. While inside his mind, Catherine finds Carl’s world is frightening full of past abuses, but she also meets Carl’s younger self and tries to bond with him to find the location of Anne.

The story of The Cell is fairly generic, it is essentially a race against time while dealing with the crazy mind of a killer. What makes this movie interesting is the visuals. Singh uses color and camera to create the nightmarish world inside of Carl’s head. The effects hold up over time due to Singh’s use of practical effects over CGI. Singh captures the feeling of being stuck in a dream with the use of shutter speed that slows the speed of the dream sequences down just slightly to give them an unreal feel and the surrealness of color saturation that makes the world seem like a painting. Many of the visuals were inspired by artists such as Damien Hirst, Odd Nerdrum, and H.R. Giger. Singh also used some of the same visuals from REM’s “Losing My Religion” video which he directed. The Cell stuck with me long after the first time I saw it and later made me even wonder if this movie was real, or a strange dream I had once.

D’Onofrio as usual plays the crazy up to 11 as not only the killer in the real world, but also the harmless version of himself in his dreams and the monster lurking in the shadows of his psyche making him kill. Lopez plays the companionate child psychologist well, of course this was long before her larger than life, diva personality took everything over. This movie is also proof that Lopez has to have an unnatural beauty routine because she looks better now that she did 15 years ago when this movie was released. The Cell was also made during the time when Vaughn was still attempting to be a serious actor before he gave up and decided to just play himself again and again. This film and a few others were the reasons I was hoping he would do well in the second season of True Detective. Alas, the hyper-real version of Vaughn is here to stay and he can no longer channel the actor he once wanted to be.

The Cell did get a sequel which was sent direct to DVD, but the premise really had nothing to do with the original other than the FBI needs to enter the mind of a killer to save his latest victim. The producers added a mix of psychic powers instead of pseudoscience to get into the mind of the killer and the new director couldn’t touch Singh’s visuals.

What did you think of The Cell? Were you haunted by its visuals long after seeing the movie? Do you think Jennifer Lopez drinks the blood of virgins in order to look as amazing as she does? Let me know what you think in the comments section.  Don’t worry, none of this is real.

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About Nerdling

The Nerdling has an unhealthy obsession with books, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Wars. She finds hockey to be the best sport in the world (Go Dallas Stars!) and is working on her first novel, but mostly glowers at a blank screen. You can find her on Twitter @nerdlingstale on Facebook @NerdlingTales or Instagram @nerdling_tales

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