Film Commentary [8-22-00]
Matrix serial killer - - The Cell
Genre: Psychological thriller
Grade = A-

Lopez as sexy slave in serial killer's subconscious The Cell is the first offering of Indian director Tarsem Singn, best known for his music videos (R.E.M.- Losing my Religion) and commercials. The Cell is one of the most unique, surreal and bizarre movies to come out in a long time.

Jennifer Lopez (Salina, Out of Sight) stars as Catherine Deane, a child psychologist who enters the mind of her comatose subject through an experimental technological device, hopefully to help pull him out of his vegetative state. In the mean time, FBI agent Peter Novac (Vince Vaugh) is on the track of a serial killer named Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) who drowns his victims in a special ‘cell’ built with a timing device to operate automatically. Novac discovers the identity of the killer only after he has secured his latest victim and placed them in the death cell in some unknown location. Unfortunately for the FBI and the victim, Stargher suffers a stroke- like aneurism in his brain and now lies in a perpetual coma. The only solution is to discover the location of the victim in a race against the clock before she to is drowned is for Deane to enter Stargher’s comatose mind and gather clues to discover where he has secreted her.

Now the fun begins. It is within the twisted mind of Stargher that the action of the film takes place. It is a surreal world portrayed by visually stunning and stylistic cinematography the likes of which have never been displayed on film. An ingenious display comprised of horrifyingly graphic scenes of the twisted nature of the serial killer’s subconscious evil with captivating and outstanding wardrobe, makeup, visual effects and set design. Some of the most striking scenes include the vertical vivisection of a living horse with glass walls similar a recent modern art exhibit utilizing a cow and when Vaughn first enters the mind of Stargher to rescue Lopez. He arises in a shallow pool flanked by three identical women, each shrouded in dark robes and sitting in a ploughed field staring up at the moon with the mouths agape. They turn to him simultaneously and whispers to him about their son - Stargher. Its positively spooky.

On the other hand, like many of the latest genre of thrillers, this movie draws significant elements from modern serial killer movies such as Se7en (investigator’s use of flashlights in a dark room when they could have just turned on the lights), Silence of the Lambs (girl trapped in an enclosure) as well as such older films such as Coma (bodies hanging from wires) and 2001: A Space Odyssey et al. And like many of the most recent of the thriller genre, it falls short in the story department. The storyline is at most mediocre. It possesses little depth and little character development other than that of the serial killer. Neither of the main characters are particularly likeable or impressionable.

Regarding the performances, Lopez, although beautifully and stunningly costumed throughout the film and is very nice to look at, she hands in an absolutely dismal performance whenever her character opens her mouth. She might as well have been reading the phone book out loud. Vaughn’s performance is lackluster as well. He seemed to feel insecure in his role. The only superior performance was that of D’Onofrio performing the various incarnations of the serial killer, but then this is a role any good actor could sink his teeth into.

The question is what balance of opinion to take with this film, while a masterpiece of cinematography, it is brought low by its lack of a script and mundane performances. As filmmaking is entering a new era with the ability of computer generated visual imagery to actually allow screenwriters and directors to present their most bizarre and visually stylistic imagery as they might actually imagine, unconstrained by moribund filmmaking artistry. As this is one of the first to make substantial use of these new techniques, I am giving it the benefit of the doubt and praising it. All in all this is truly one of the most twisted and bizarre films that belongs in a class with ,i>eXistenZ, Videodrome and Altered States.

Although the film stars Lopez and Vaughn, the real stars of the movie, however, are Eiko Ishioka and April Napier for wardrobe design, Kevin Tod Haug as visual effects supervisor, Tom Foden as production designer), and Paul Laufer for director of photography. Expect to see Oscar nominations in these categories. Do not expect nominations for acting.

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