Some people have the notion in their heads that the media someone consumes reflects their personality. I wonder what their opinion is of someone who enjoys watching bad movies. Are they afflicted with masochism, or just addicted to schadenfreude? Whatever the case may be, it is a curious thought to mull about as I write this, for I enjoy bad films more so than what major theaters have been showing lately.
As a kick-off of sorts, I would like to give insight into an under-viewed area of film. I consider it under-viewed because the main roadblock, a pile of trash you need to wade through, stops plenty of viewers from finding the treasures in the trash. These treasures are of two kinds: a genuinely good film that went missed by most, or a movie that fulfills the “so bad it’s good” statement of being. The 2016 film, Cell, serves as our easy jumping-off point into the pile of trash.
Cell is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, with a screenplay written by the author himself. It stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. For those unfamiliar with the material, the basic plot is one day “The Pulse” was sent out and anyone who was using a cellphone at the time became a 28 Days Later reject and promptly started attacking indiscriminately. Clay (Cusack) is in an airport when “The Pulse” hits, and meets up with Tom (Jackson). They escape and slowly build a small party of survivors, their destination being Clay’s old home to find his son.
There really isn’t much to Cell’s plot development that cannot be summed up in a couple of sentences. The individual phone zombies are gathering in flocks and starting to work like a hivemind, and there’s one central entity behind the strings. They no longer rely on cellphones to convert people, and humans are apparently becoming psychic modems of sorts, complete with organic dial tones. This is where the interesting elements end.
To the film’s credit, it’s very gruesome. However, like a lot of the film’s substance, gruesomeness is an inherent cliché of zombie/infection horror movies. Gunshots that attract the horde, individual drones can signal their allies to come in for the kill, and someone attempting the improbable rescue of their loved ones in an apocalyptic scenario are just the ones that stand out.
With uninteresting writing and an uninteresting plot, it’s no wonder the actors look bored throughout the entire film. It could be argued that the actors are portraying surviving while in a traumatized state. In order for that to be more realized, a sense of crumbling mental stability would lend more to their performance rather than bland, emotionless line reading and stiff acting. Even when the characters are getting drunk in a bar their actions and lines are still stiff and lifeless. Speaking of lifelessness, a character dies a couple of scenes after a moment of actual character development and bonding occurs. She joins the writing of this film as dead concepts.
We eventually slog to the end, where Clay makes the completely rational decision of sending his allies down the road while he goes off alone to blow up a cell tower by himself. He finally finds his son, who unsurprisingly has become one with the horde. Clay embraces his screaming son with a hug and blows them both up with the cell tower, bringing an end to this madness.
We then see Clay and his son, unharmed, heading north to meet up with Clay’s friends. At first, I thought they went for a complete cop-out on character development, but it turns out to be a plot twist. Clay has joined the horde, his son having brainwashed him with his dial up screams. If you’re confused as to why this ending is different than the book, Stephen King wrote a different ending as a response to the panning of the ending from the book. I don’t believe it was any better.
As a case study of don’ts about filmmaking, you’ve got quite a bit to work with: poor acting direction, writing, and resolution all around. Additionally, there is the ‘subtle’ meta-commentary that cell phone and internet usage is making us into husk-like creatures or angry savages. By ‘subtle,’ I mean “META-COMMENTARY” being built in a 40-foot sculpture and being the next centerpiece for Burning Man. Other than laughing at the film at its expense and learning filmmaking follies, there’s nothing of value here.