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Monday, May 30, 2022

Stephen King’s ‘Cell’ – Finding the Good in a Missed Opportunity [The Silver Lining]

In this edition of The Silver Lining, we’ll be covering Tod Williams’ 2016 Stephen King adaptation, Cell.

Stephen King is no stranger to the apocalypse. From the fallen worlds of his The Dark Tower series to his viral opus The Stand (which remains one of my all-time favorite literary works), the writer has an undeniable knack for depicting savage characters with nothing left to lose. Back in 2006, the author tried his hand at a different kind of apocalyptic yarn with Cell, a chilling homage to the zombie genre wrapped up in a bit of technological satire.

Unsurprisingly, the book became yet another hit for the King of horror, so it’s only natural that its rights were soon scooped up by eager film studios. However, Cell’s journey to the big screen was a tumultuous one, with the project shifting from one creative team to the next over a period of several years. At one point, even Hostel’s Eli Roth was set to direct the flick, though he ultimately departed from the picture due to creative differences with the Weinsteins.

After a number of false starts, Cell finally began production in 2014 with Paranormal Activity 2’s Tod Williams directing a screenplay written by Stephen King himself. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson were brought on board as our leading men, which pleased fans of the surprisingly successful 1408 adaptation. The duo was also joined by the always-charming Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan), further adding to the hype as this long-awaited project finally got off the ground.

Like the novel, the film follows artist Clay Riddell (Cusack) as he attempts to survive the aftermath of a mysterious pulse that transforms cellphone users into zombie-like murderers. Joining forces with train conductor Tom McCourt (Jackson) and a teenage neighbor named Alice Maxwell (Fuhrman), Clay embarks on a perilous quest to reunite with his estranged family in New England as the group learns to face the dangers of this brave new world.

Promising a star-studded cast boosted by a script penned by the original author, Cell was shaping up to be a high-profile Stephen King adaptation akin to the aforementioned 1408 or even Frank Darabont’s The Mist.


Stephen King Cell movie

While the movie was completed in early 2014, Cell would only see the light of day two years later, being unceremoniously dumped onto streaming platforms after an extremely limited theatrical release (resulting in an abysmal $1 million box office return). This unusual delay implies that the studio knew something was wrong with the film even before it earned its disappointing 11% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Once they finally got to see it, most critics agreed that the movie was a rather bland entry in the zombie genre, suffering from heavy-handed allegories and cookie-cutter characters. There were also numerous complaints about the film’s low production value, with reviewers almost unanimously lamenting the picture’s made-for-TV aesthetics, bizarre editing choices and laughable special effects.

In fact, I’d argue that most of the film’s general lack of tension and style can be chalked up to the wildly inappropriate budget. While it’s not necessarily a blockbuster action story, Cell clearly needed to be a larger production in order to properly adapt the apocalyptic scale of King’s novel. Couple that with the inherent difficulties of translating the author’s idiosyncrasies and lengthy inner monologues to a visual medium and you get a literal yet confused adaptation that doesn’t really do the book justice.

There’s also the issue of the film simply taking too long to get made, with the cellphone zombie idea seeming a lot fresher back in 2006 than when the movie eventually came out. By 2016, much of the story’s social commentary seemed silly and outdated, especially when you consider that most people were already using cellphones as texting devices rather than actual phones.

At the end of the day, Cell was a missed opportunity, containing all the right ingredients for a great Stephen King adaptation but fumbling the execution.


Stephen King Cell adaptation

As I mentioned in a previous Silver Lining piece on Riding the Bullet, I’ve always been a fan of made-for-TV King adaptations. These low budget movies and miniseries may have been overly literal translations of the author’s work, but I think that their schlocky ambitions often outshined their limitations. I mention this because I see some of that same late-night TV charm in Tod William’s Cell, which contains quite a few entertaining moments despite its obvious flaws.

While it would have been fun to see a proper big-budget adaptation of the book’s opening moments, I honestly believe that the film faithfully captures the initial chaos and confusion of a sudden apocalyptic event. Most zombie media tends to overlook the genesis of the undead uprising, usually skipping ahead to the dystopic thrills of a post-zombie society, so I appreciate how Cell lets us witness these events in almost real time.

The film’s ending might still be a little too on-the-nose, but it’s a marked improvement over the novel’s excessively vague finale while still managing to keep the story’s nihilistic elements front and center. In fact, most of the original plot made it onscreen intact, courtesy of King’s effective screenplay. The cast is also surprisingly likable despite the admittedly thin characterization, and I especially like Cusack and Fuhrman’s budding friendship, which provides some of the film’s most tender moments.

It’s definitely no Shawshank Redemption, but I think Cell is an enjoyable B-movie if you can stomach some shoddy effects work and sub-par production value. The technophobic thrills that carry the story might not please everyone, but I’d recommend this peculiar zombie flick to die-hard fans of both Stephen King and the late great George Romero. Just try not to play around with your phone while you watch it.

Watching a bad movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad experience. Even the worst films can boast a good idea or two, and that’s why we’re trying to look on the bright side with The Silver Lining, where we shine a light on the best parts of traditionally maligned horror flicks.

The post Stephen King’s ‘Cell’ – Finding the Good in a Missed Opportunity [The Silver Lining] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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