Stephen King is one of my favourite authors; a master storyteller who is responsible for such modern masterpieces as The Shining, It, Misery, and The Dark Tower books – his most sweeping epic to date, which is currently being turned into a film and subsequent television series – the writer’s works have easily made the transfer from page to screen and have thrilled audiences for decades.
Some adaptations have been better than others, but I don’t think there’s been one that’s quite as soul-crushingly disappointing as Tod Williams’ big screen telling of King’s Cell. In defence of the director, whose last film was 2010’s Paranormal Activity 2, he’s hardly working with King’s best material, with the book itself sitting at the lower end of the author’s extensive back catalogue.
The best thing that the novel has going for it is the concept, which sees most of the world’s population turned into violent zombies after a “pulse” is transmitted through every cellular phone. A bit of a technophobe himself – the ending of the book states that King doesn’t own a mobile phone – using a zombie story as a front to deal with mankind’s ever-increasing reliance and obsession with technology is an intriguing one.
It’s a concept which is squandered in the film, with Williams somehow managing to take a “just-okay” story and turn it into something much worse. The interesting ideas at the core of King’s novel are stripped away in favour of something that lacks the edge, the frights, the thrills and general character that one has come to expect from the writer.
Strangely, King himself shares a writing credit with Adam Alleca, but one can’t help but wonder just how much involvement the former truly had. The film could be best described as sequence after sequence of the central characters running from one place to the next, occasionally being chased by zombies with internet modem dial tones as voices. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if these moments were filled with the slightest bit of tension, but Williams lacks the skill, creativity and bite that’s needed for a story of this kind.
Eli Roth was at one point lined up to write and direct, but left the project due to “creative differences”, and whilst I’m not Roth’s biggest fan, I’m sure he would have made something memorable at the very least. With Williams at the helm, there are times where Cell feels like a cheaply-made final project of a University graduate, complete with cringe-inducing visual effects.
John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson try to make the best of a bad situation, as does Marcelo Zavros who tries to add some drama with a moody score. Otherwise, Cell is a truly depressing experience and quite possibly the worst Stephen King adaptation I’ve ever seen. And If you’ve read the novel and were left frustrated by its ending, you just wait until you see the madness that unfolds in the film’s final few moments. Awful.
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