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Film Review: Cell @ FrightFest 2016

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★★

With Steven King horror adaptations such as Misery, The Shining and Carrie going down as some of the best thrillers in history, his latest feature film adaption - brought to life by Tod Williams - certainly has a lot to live up to.

The plot of Cell is simple: one day every person who is using a mobile phone suddenly turns into a murderous zombie, controlled by a phone signal amongst apocalyptic madness. What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, so much was wrong with this film that it really did make it rather difficult to watch. With an explosive start Cell did successfully jump straight into the action, and the opening was pretty good - it looked to be a promising start.

However, the problem with Cell is that it jumps leaps and bounds in the plot and character relationships without anywhere near enough time to work on these things. Somehow, people know all too quickly exactly what is going on, and make survival friendships almost instantly. Clay Riddell (John Cusack) and Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson) understandably pair up to survive crazed zombies, yet their interaction is unnatural.

There’s none of the classic “I gotta do what I gotta do”, or “I would kill you if you got infected in an instant” talk. The two seem to be the best of friends despite only knowing each other for a short while. And although Clay’s primary concern is to find out whether his family are alive, he encourages his new found friends Tom and Isabelle (Alice Maxwell) to go with him, despite having no plan past this.

The acting is pretty appalling also, with usually talented actors unable to deliver the simplest of lines convincingly. What’s worse is that when something supposedly bad happens, is that the actors are totally unconvincing in their distress. It is difficult to care about even one person in the film because there is nowhere near enough character development to make us feel sympathy.

Although the premise of the film itself is unrealistic (I hope), this is not what lessens the film’s quality. It is the unconvincing way in which the whole film is executed, whereby it feels like even the actors themselves don’t believe the narrative they’re a part of. Some scenes feel as if they are taking us nowhere, and therefore completely unnecessary for the film. Whereas in the ones where things do happen, it’s totally unconvincing.

One slightly redeeming quality is the performance of the zombies. They are given a difficult task of not simply acting insane and desperate for human flesh like most zombies, but have a motive and a uniform nature about them. The fact that they are controlled by a phone signal makes them unpredictable and not necessarily as volatile as the standard zombie. The use of mobile phone digital sounds was also deafening and actually quite scary.

Nevertheless, this alone is certainly not enough to save an ultimately hopeless film. There were some laughs and some scares, but far more awkward grimacing and bored yawns.

Cell premiered as part of FrightFest 2016, which took place between 26th and 29th August.

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