Phoned-in terror fails to engage
As great a writer as Stephen King is, his work hasn’t always received the finest big screen treatment.
For every Shawshank Redemption, Misery and Stand By Me there are what seems like dozens of duds – Dreamcatcher, Dolan’s Cadillac and A Good Marriage to name a few.
Having read the Cell book, I was expecting good things from this latest King adaptation. After all the plot – which sees a mysterious signal turn people into zombie-like figures – seemed perfect cinematic foil.
Unfortunately, though, the page-to-screen transition falls way short of even delivering frequent short, sharp scares, never mind the brilliance of the finest King-flavoured flicks.
That’s despite a fine, memorably manic opening sequence that sees the initial outbreak cause chaos at an airport, with people fighting, a dog getting eaten and planes colliding.
But it never reaches those heights again as the pace slows and the cast sit around chatting about nothing particularly interesting for lengthy spells.
Screenplay scribe Adam Alleca (The Last House on the Left remake) adapts King’s novel and much of what worked well in print doesn’t translate well to film.
The inability to read certain characters’ inner monologues leads to too much exposition spouting and several instances of moments where it’s not clear exactly what is going on.
Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2) directs and does create a few haunting images – including a good scare involving a teen on a swing and a vehicle driving over herds of the sleeping ‘infected’.
The production design ( John Collins) and cinematography (Michael Simmonds) are also both impressive, with earthy woods, abandoned homes and cars and tight locations all adding up to a world that looks like it’s coming to an end.
However, Williams takes his zombie movie influences too far with an overreliance on action beats done better in numerous other films from the genre; worst of which is a 28 Days Later-aping underground chase and attack.
This may try to present a different take on zombies – they aren’t undead at least – but familiar tropes associated with movies featuring the horror icons are lazily rehashed; such as people hiding out, suspicious humans, hordes on the attack and investigating a seemingly empty house.
Taking them on is John Cusack’s artist Clay and the 50-year-old star fails to halt his descent into career hell. Sure, he’s decent enough here, but a long way off his pre2007 brilliance.
Samuel L Jackson’s everyman is one of his most low key roles in years and the lead pair are both outshone by Isabelle Fuhrman’s feisty-yetvulnerable teen.
Any sprinklings of goodwill Cell may have created earlier, though, is ruined by a dire ending that’s poorly-lit, abrupt and makes the previous 45 minutes feel utterly pointless.
Apocalyptic action Cusack faces the end of the world Cinema with Ian Bunting