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The Cell (2000) – Movie Review

The Cell

Written by: Mark Protosevich
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, Dylan Baker, Jake Weber

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

Catherine (Lopez) is a former social worker who’s now finally able to get inside the mind of the child in her care. We’re talking literally here. She is able to project her mind into the minds of others using cutting edge technology, and is trying to help a catatonic child (Colton James) with his trauma. Into her life comes FBI agent Novak (Vaughn), and boy does she wish he was carrying flowers. But instead, he’s carrying Carl (D’Onofrio), a serial killer–and they need Catherine’s help to find the whacko’s latest victim.

Let’s get something out of the way first. This seems an awful lot like Dreamscape of the Lambs, with art direction by Joel-Peter Witkin. And yes, in the hands of less capable directors, that’s probably all it might have turned out to be: eye candy that wasn’t for the squeamish. However, Tarsem, he of the music videos, stepped up to the chair and brought with him much thoughts (and effective ones at that) about what the inner workings of a madman’s mind might be.

[ad#longpost]Inside Carl’s head, it is truly a disturbed locale: his former victims are hideous doll-like parodies of themselves, his younger self runs around being abused by his father (Gareth Williams), and anything and everything is there to be subjugated. And anything and everything is there to be marveled at from an audience standpoint, because it’s the most incredibly well-crafted nightmare that’s probably ever hit screens. Cameras twist and stutter about, sets are impossibly huge and overpowering, and D’Onofrio is just too damn evil to be believed. The makeup, Eiko Ishioka’s (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) incredible costumes, the sets, the locations–they all comprise some of the best imagery of the year.

But once you get over the impact of Carl’s world, you can step back and realize that the rest of the film is just as magnificent in its own way. The snap cuts of the explanation of how the FBI has Carl’s house staked out, Carl’s freaked out basement complete with chains for suspension, and the strange Dracula-inspired musculature suits used on psychonauts–these are all elegantly whacked in their own special ways, lest Tarsem be accused of not knowing how to handle a slightly skewed “real world” situation. On the contrary, it’s all beautifully rendered–which makes the strangeness, gore and torture all the more affecting.

Be forewarned, however. This was on my top ten list for the year, but it’s not for everyone. It’s harsh, unforgiving and downright nasty in places–so much so that it’s driven some fans of the serial killer genre to turn their backs on it. But if you’re willing to go over the top with Mr. Singh, I think you’ll find it worth your while.

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