- Jennifer Lopez as Catherine Deane
- Vince Vaughn as Agent Peter Novak
- Vincent D’Onofrio as Carl Stargher
- Dylan Baker as Henry West
- Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Dr. Miriam Kent
A visually disturbing and unique film, but also hollow and poorly plotted, The Cell is sometimes its own worst enemy in terms of what it wants to be. It may boast the occasional moment of understanding, but you just get the feeling it could have been so much more if differences were made to it.
Catherine Deane is a psychologist who deals with cases of comatose patients. Through an unusual and high-tech treatment, she can place herself in the mind of the patient and try to connect with them, in the hoped of coaxing them out of their coma. The FBI enlists her services when Carl Stargher, a serial killer falls into a coma after kidnapping his latest victim. Carl keeps his victims in a confined cell in an unknown location that eventually fills with water to slowly drown them. Carl after killing them commits atrocities to their bodies and crafts the women into human dolls. With Carl now in a comatose state, the whereabouts of his latest victim are not known and Agent Peter Novak wants to save the woman before it is too late. Catherine agrees to enter Carl’s mind in order to discover where the latest victim is. Yet she is not prepared for what greets her when she enters his mind. It manifests as disturbing images from his childhood in which his father routinely abused him and strange visions of the adult Carl who delights in graphic and sadistic murder. While trying to stop herself getting too involved with the increasingly bizarre visions and discerning herself that it is all not a reality, Catherine becomes lost in this dangerous dreamscape believing it to be real. Now caged in his mind along with Peter who ventures in to help her, she must find a way out before her time runs out.
If The Cell was purely judged from a visual standpoint, it would be a masterpiece. Director Tarsem Singh knows how to shoot these vivid and very disturbing journeys into Carl’s warped mind with style and verve. Striking and unusual images abound: a horse is cut in half and its still beating heart is shown, the walls of a palace become the cloak of Carl as a king, Catherine imprisoned in a gravity defying cage and also being dressed in unusually restrictive clothing as a fantasy figure. The list could go on about how amazing the film looks, it’s a shame that the plotting, pacing and writing could have been much better. Singh has a craft when it comes to the fantasy and horror aspects, but his grasp of pace and other things isn’t as deft. In the beginning, The Cell just meanders along for big stretches and only really comes alive when Catherine enters into Carl’s twisted psyche. Character development among the supporting cast and Vince Vaughn’s character is almost non-existent and none of them are really that interesting. As I mentioned earlier, The Cell doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It feels like a three-way cross between a thriller, horror and dashes of fantasy. And while I have nothing against the melding of genres together, The Cell lurches from one to the other without a care and it just makes the film feel messy. At least there’s a Middle Eastern infused score from Howard Shore that compliments the haunting cornucopia of imagery and keeps the plot going despite the flaws of it.
Jennifer Lopez, while not being the first person to spring to mind in playing a psychologist, actually brings warmth and sympathy to her underwritten character. Lopez must also get credit for the amount of convincing fear she portrays when she is entangled in the dreams and memories of Carl. Vince Vaughn tries his best but is saddled with such an uninteresting character, that he can’t really register anything of memory. The real acting highlight of The Cell is Vincent D’Onofrio. Bringing his considerable hulking and physical presence to the role, he delves into the disturbed mind of Carl and gives us the child in a man’s body who has no idea of right and wrong due to the horrendous abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. When you finish this film, it will be D’Onofrio that you will remember. Dylan Baker and Marianne Jean-Baptiste are given absolutely nothing to do as fellow psychologists and their inclusion adds up to nothing.
So for all the audacity and visual impact, The Cell doesn’t add up to an excellent movie.