Graphic Horror: The Cell
Graphic Horror: The Cell 2000
When I first decided to run this Graphic Horror blogathon, I was planning on only covering the movies that were actually based on graphic novels, but when no one jumped on the Cell, I couldn’t let that go considering that this was pretty much the first movie that I thought of when I came up with the entire idea for the blogathon in the first place. When I was younger, I never really got into horror movies much, but after seeing Seven there was a while where I would seek out these not-quite-horror movies focused on serial killers. I was also a big fan of artistic music videos like Nine Inch Nails and a couple of Madonna’s videos and this movie looked right in line with that surreal, dreamlike music video style, though honestly I don’t think I’ve revisited this movie since that time. But it has still always stuck with me as an interesting concept with beautiful visuals even though the other things like the plot never really stuck with me as closely. I had even forgotten that Vince Vaughn had a significant role in this movie.
The basic conceit of this movie is that there is this machine that has been developed that allows someone to go into the mindscape of another person. The overall goal of this procedure is to go into the minds of coma patients and somehow reach their subconscious in such a way that they will wake up from their coma even though it has yet to be successful. Meanwhile, there is a serial killer who kidnaps women and places them in this chamber where they are kept alone, videotaped, for forty hours before the chamber starts filling with water and doesn’t stop until they drown where he then turns them into a kind of human doll before discarding them to move on to the next woman. When the FBI finally finds him, he has fallen into a coma, but not before already placing his next victim inside this chamber in an unknown location and their only hope is to use this machine to go inside his mind to try and discover the location of this woman before she is killed.
This is one of those movies where there is so much depth to this movie that it’s hard to take everything in during a single viewing. Most of the movie is centered around just three characters: Jennifer Lopez’s social worker who is the one trained in working with the machine and is tasked to go inside the serial killer’s mind. Vincent D’Onofrio’s serial killer who plays both the socially awkward, troubled killer and his monstrous emperor persona within his own mind. And Vince Vaughn’s FBI profiler who is the one essentially leading the investigation and also has his opportunity to visit the mind of the serial killer when things start to go wrong.
One thing that The Cell does that not too many movies like this do is that it makes the serial killer a sympathetic character. Even from the very beginning he isn’t the dark and demented serial killer like John Doe or Hannibal Lecter, but instead he’s the quiet, awkward, withdrawn type, albiet one with some serious mental issues which cause him to suspend himself above his victim’s body which apparently gives him sexual pleasure. And once we get to see inside the mind of this killer, we get to see not just the monster that he has become, but also the little kid inside that has been beaten into submission by memories of his abusive and perverse father.
What really makes this movie special is the imagery surrounding all of the mindscapes. Even before we meet the serial killer, we get to see inside the mind of a young boy in a coma, a vast desert landscape with a twisted tree and Jennifer Lopez follows his shining mirror signal while wearing an elegant flowing white dress. The inside of the killer’s mind is much darker and cluttered with a large number of twisted figures and contraptions befitting of a Saw movie only with much more color. And much like one of the Saw movies, Lopez ends up becoming trapped inside, turned into one of D’Onofrio’s living contraptions. I think one of the things that ultimately brings this movie down a little bit is that it relies too heavily on symbolism in parts, especially during the ending. For whatever reason, Lopez decides to reverse the streams and take the mind of the killer within her own mind, turning the tables on him in a place where she is in complete control. And wearing the visage of the Virgin Mary she tries to reach the boy within the consciousness of the killer, but when they are found by the monster, she tries to destroy the monster. Ultimately, because the two are connected, she decides that the best option is to set the boy free through a baptismal-like drowning in order to finally eliminate the monster killer. It’s a fitting ending for D’Onofrio, but it doesn’t entirely feel earned or deserved, not to mention the fact that it is a detrimental change to Lopez’s character.
But the visuals and the performances more than make up for the ending and it’s still something that completely grabs my attention from the very beginning and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. I already mentioned that this was the first movie that sprung to mind when I started thinking about this blogathon, and while watching it, I had to pace myself when taking screenshots or else I would have taken well over a dozen. As it is, I still have quite a few for you to check out. I think it would make a stunning graphic novel with plenty of gorgeous images to pore over. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s definitely worth it to see. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.