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The UnPopular Opinion: The Cell

03.26.2015

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

I love a good serial killer movie but they are often drab, gray, and devoid of color. The genre is, almost by definition, cold and brooding. Some of the best contemporary examples of serial killer movies give us a cop or investigator hunting the most profane killers imaginable and we only get a glimpse into the mind of the villain. Movies like THE CELL take us deep into the psyche of a murderer and psychopath in a way that is both disturbing and beautiful. It is because of that reason that this ranks as one of the best movies, horror or otherwise, in the last fifteen years.

THE CELL is best described as a twisted, adult version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND. The visuals from director Tarsem Singh's feature debut are absolutely astounding in ways rarely rivaled since the film hit theaters but often imitated. Taking inspiration from modern and classic art, Tarsem creates a phantasmagoria that is the mindscape of Carl Rudolph Stargher. There are moments in THE CELL that are beyond disturbing and the film is bound to stick with you long after you view it, but they are also quite beautiful. The ornate costumes and set design are cavernous, gothic, and above all original while also paying homage to the artists who inspired the film. Tarsem's later films, especially THE FALL and even MIRROR MIRROR, also share similar visual cues.

I would be remiss if I didn't address the detractors of THE CELL. For the most part, those who hate this movie say it has no plot, no logic, and no story. Instead, they describe THE CELL as a visual film with no depth to it and I could not disagree more. There is clearly a plot and one that makes total sense: a serial killer falls into a coma and an experimental technology allows a child psychologist to enter his subconscious in an effort to find the remaining victim before she dies. In fact, THE CELL has ample plot to fill two movies. On one hand, you have Vince Vaughn's FBI agent tracking down clues in the real world to find the missing girl. This chase film feels like any number of serial killer movies released over the years, full of stock characters like Jake Weber and BREAKING BAD's Dean Norris as investigators. The real world scientists portrayed by Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Dylan Baker feel like the characters you would find in any SILENCE OF THE LAMBS clone, but they bring the expected performances and do not once feel out of place.

Where THE CELL shines is the horror aspect of the movie. Not since A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET has the world of bad dreams been so expertly portrayed on screen. Vincent D'Onofrio is, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying boogeyman in movie history. The film allows you moments of sympathy for him but never lets you forget this is one of the worst elements of humanity and his death does not even come close to paying for his crimes. Critics complain that THE CELL is rife with misogynistic influences, but what the hell else would you expect inside the mind of a serial killer? What is disturbing is the idea that no matter how twisted the filmmakers were here, it likely doesn't rival what would be in a real killer's dreams. THE CELL gives us a haunting look at what could be and it is scary as hell.

I am typically not one to laud a performance by Jennifer Lopez but I enjoy her work in THE CELL quite a bit. She is understated and innocent, almost too much so for an educated doctor, but she is approachable and realistic and feels like an adult Alice as she falls through the looking glass. Just as her career was kicking into high gear on the big screen, Lopez portrays Catherine Deane as a scientist who gets dragged into an investigation she wanted no part of. Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, portrays FBI agent Peter Novak as an intense detective whose investigation gets drawn into the scientific mumbo-jumbo of dreamscapes that he wants no part of. Like any good big screen odd couple, Lopez and Vaughn have chemistry that helps both of their characters solve the mystery.

What critics view as the shortcomings of THE CELL are actually it's greatest strengths. There are whole sections of the movie, including the majority of the third act, that are very sparse in dialogue and yet we are glued to the screen in anticipation of what will come next. There is virtually nothing in THE CELL that we can expect or anticipate. The real-world side of the tale has a traditional beginning, middle, and end, but once inside the subconscious realm we are at the mercy of the concoctions of writer Mark Protosevich and director Tarsem. With a movie like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, you have empathy for Hannibal Lecter, even if you don't like him. With THE CELL, you are terrified of the innocent boy that Stargher was and lament what he has become.

THE CELL is a movie that looks as good fifteen years after it's theatrical release as it did when it debuted and that is a testament to the cinematography and various designers of the film. It is so enthralling that if you stumble across it on cable, you are sucked in and cannot look away. THE CELL is a movie that everyone always remembers as "that movie" but it deserves to be so much more. Roger Ebert named it as one of the ten best films of 2000 and it absolutely was. It now deserves to be remembered as one of the best of the decade and beyond.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

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Source: JoBlo.com

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10:14PM on 03/27/2015
Very underrated movie, it has great visuals, is downright creepy with a great villain & solid performances from Lopez & Vaughn. I used to refer to it as the poor man's Silence of the Lambs & it's meant as a compliment. In fact I believe Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars!
Very underrated movie, it has great visuals, is downright creepy with a great villain & solid performances from Lopez & Vaughn. I used to refer to it as the poor man's Silence of the Lambs & it's meant as a compliment. In fact I believe Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars!
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+0
1:29PM on 03/27/2015

Excellent film.

I've seen a number of times and I still enjoy it, trully one of a kind film.
The best part for me is the time when I felt truly sorry for the "monster"..
It is a different take on the Serial killer genre.
I've seen a number of times and I still enjoy it, trully one of a kind film.
The best part for me is the time when I felt truly sorry for the "monster"..
It is a different take on the Serial killer genre.
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+2
10:01PM on 03/26/2015
I had no idea the majority of people didn't like this movie. I thought this article was going to slam it.
I had no idea the majority of people didn't like this movie. I thought this article was going to slam it.
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7:10PM on 03/26/2015
It's one of the most visually arresting movies I've seen, and one of my favorite Vincent D'Onofrio roles. I still believe that The Fall is Tarsem's masterpiece, but The Cell is one freaky ride. I think at the time I felt like outside of the dream world things were a little too formulaic. Without the dreams, it's just a meh kinda movie. WITH the dreams, it's pretty astounding. The Fall is a good movie with a good story, and even if it didn't have Tarsem's visual flair, I still would've said it
It's one of the most visually arresting movies I've seen, and one of my favorite Vincent D'Onofrio roles. I still believe that The Fall is Tarsem's masterpiece, but The Cell is one freaky ride. I think at the time I felt like outside of the dream world things were a little too formulaic. Without the dreams, it's just a meh kinda movie. WITH the dreams, it's pretty astounding. The Fall is a good movie with a good story, and even if it didn't have Tarsem's visual flair, I still would've said it was good.
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-3
12:54PM on 03/26/2015

"There is virtually nothing in THE CELL that we can expect ."

Dude, have you ever seen an episode of CSI?
One of the most common criticisms of the film goes on rails the moment the serial killer passes out, and you can predict beat for beat what's going to happen.

1. Oh no,. the killer is unconscious let's use that handy autism technology to go inside his head.
2. Wait, this is a serial killer head, scary stuff!
3. Oh no, good guy got captured, isn't it lucky we have a spunky empowered heroine to rescue him?
4. No way! Find the missing girl right
Dude, have you ever seen an episode of CSI?
One of the most common criticisms of the film goes on rails the moment the serial killer passes out, and you can predict beat for beat what's going to happen.

1. Oh no,. the killer is unconscious let's use that handy autism technology to go inside his head.
2. Wait, this is a serial killer head, scary stuff!
3. Oh no, good guy got captured, isn't it lucky we have a spunky empowered heroine to rescue him?
4. No way! Find the missing girl right at the last possible moment before she drowns! I totally did not see that coming (JK x's like a million).

I freaking love The Fall, but that's because in addition to being visually stunning it was incredibly well written. The Cell is all stunning visuals and nothing else. In that regard, it's pretty much the art-film equivalent of Maleficent or Transformers.
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12:09PM on 03/26/2015

Incredible!

I saw this at the cinema and it was amazing, from the beginning to the end. D'Onofrio was frightening as hell. Good premise... Good movie, overall.

Try next time with: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I believe it was really a good movie, charming and entertaining.
I saw this at the cinema and it was amazing, from the beginning to the end. D'Onofrio was frightening as hell. Good premise... Good movie, overall.

Try next time with: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. I believe it was really a good movie, charming and entertaining.
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11:39AM on 03/26/2015
I have always loved this movie. I watched it again a few weeks back. I would go so far as to call it a precursor to Inception.
I have always loved this movie. I watched it again a few weeks back. I would go so far as to call it a precursor to Inception.
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10:35AM on 03/26/2015

I does stick with you, but that doesn't mean it is good.

I don't think this movie has no plot, I just think the plot is so boring and paint-by-numbers that it feels like there is no plot. It is really just a vehicle for weird nonsensical dream sequences. They are striking and they definitely stay with you, sure, but they are strung together by such a thin nothing of a plot that the whole exercise seems pointless. Every beat outside of the dream world is cliche, and every revelation inside the dream world is predictable. Oh he was abused as a
I don't think this movie has no plot, I just think the plot is so boring and paint-by-numbers that it feels like there is no plot. It is really just a vehicle for weird nonsensical dream sequences. They are striking and they definitely stay with you, sure, but they are strung together by such a thin nothing of a plot that the whole exercise seems pointless. Every beat outside of the dream world is cliche, and every revelation inside the dream world is predictable. Oh he was abused as a child, and is really just a damaged child lashing out in adulthood...awesome, that's only every serial killer's backstory ever. This is all forgetting the fact that Vince Vaughn is miscast, and Jennifer Lopez sounds like she is reading the script from somewhere off camera the whole film.

I don't completely hate the film. Like I said before, Tarsem's visuals during the dream sequences are pretty amazing and surreal, and they really stick with you, but that isn't a whole movie. If you really want surreal Tarsem-style sequences, but with a compelling and interesting plot around it, then watch The Fall instead. That movie is great.
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-1
10:19AM on 03/26/2015
6/10.
6/10.
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9:02AM on 03/26/2015
I've never understood the level of venom this film gets from some people. Even if some of the critics were correct in that this is style over substance, it is such an amazing style that it offsets whatever lack of substance there might be. But truthfully, like the author, I thought the story was fine and I had no problem following the movie. It isn't confusing or disjointed. And at the time, it was a pretty fresh take on an overly exhausted genre. It is also still probably the only thing I have
I've never understood the level of venom this film gets from some people. Even if some of the critics were correct in that this is style over substance, it is such an amazing style that it offsets whatever lack of substance there might be. But truthfully, like the author, I thought the story was fine and I had no problem following the movie. It isn't confusing or disjointed. And at the time, it was a pretty fresh take on an overly exhausted genre. It is also still probably the only thing I have liked Lopez in and is one of D'Onofrio's greatest roles.
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8:57AM on 03/26/2015
This movie is amazing. One of my favorites from when I was in high school and I still show it to people today. Tarsem needs to go back to making movies like The Cell and The Fall, he's got incredible vision that seems wasted on his more recent endeavors like Mirror Mirror
This movie is amazing. One of my favorites from when I was in high school and I still show it to people today. Tarsem needs to go back to making movies like The Cell and The Fall, he's got incredible vision that seems wasted on his more recent endeavors like Mirror Mirror
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10:17AM on 03/26/2015
The Fall was visually fantastic.
The Fall was visually fantastic.
8:07AM on 03/26/2015
I actually really like this film, saw it in the movie theater and then re-watched it a couple of times at home. I am the type of guy who rolls his eyes every time a dream sequence comes on in a movie or on TV so by that you can tell how well made this movie is made in all aspects. I too was under the impression that the appreciation for this movie was the popular opinion even if somehow underrated but then again I'm also not from the USA.
I actually really like this film, saw it in the movie theater and then re-watched it a couple of times at home. I am the type of guy who rolls his eyes every time a dream sequence comes on in a movie or on TV so by that you can tell how well made this movie is made in all aspects. I too was under the impression that the appreciation for this movie was the popular opinion even if somehow underrated but then again I'm also not from the USA.
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7:08AM on 03/26/2015
This is actually a great movie with great costumes and production design. This is probably Jennifer Lopez's best movie.
This is actually a great movie with great costumes and production design. This is probably Jennifer Lopez's best movie.
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7:05AM on 03/26/2015

Like this film too, but isn't that the popular opinion?

When this was originally screening I worked at the cinema and I remember it being a minor hit and the audience generally left the movie positive. ALso the reviews over here were pretty decent at the time(more positive than negative). But I live in the Netherlands, maybe it was different in the United States?
When this was originally screening I worked at the cinema and I remember it being a minor hit and the audience generally left the movie positive. ALso the reviews over here were pretty decent at the time(more positive than negative). But I live in the Netherlands, maybe it was different in the United States?
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6:32AM on 03/26/2015

Great film

Some of the visuals in this movie stuck with me long after I left the theater
Some of the visuals in this movie stuck with me long after I left the theater
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6:22AM on 03/26/2015
Great film. The dream sequences were amazing, but the scene the disturbed me the most actually took place in the real world with him suspended with hooks and chains over a dead girl while masturbating, that shit was messed up.
Great film. The dream sequences were amazing, but the scene the disturbed me the most actually took place in the real world with him suspended with hooks and chains over a dead girl while masturbating, that shit was messed up.
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7:16AM on 03/26/2015
Oh My God, I remember that scene now. That really was messed up!
Oh My God, I remember that scene now. That really was messed up!
4:23AM on 03/26/2015

Love it very much

The use of psychedelic Eastern music adds a very nice touch to the already amazing set pieces. If only the dream worlds in Inception are as surreal and artistic as this one...
The use of psychedelic Eastern music adds a very nice touch to the already amazing set pieces. If only the dream worlds in Inception are as surreal and artistic as this one...
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3:59AM on 03/26/2015

Dig it

Boy did I dig this movie from the day I saw it at the cinema. Visually it blows my mind. Keep my eye out for Tarsem Singh's films because of it. Feels like I'm the only Immortals fan I know. Now that could be an Unpopular Opinion entry. But to be honest, the real world bits are very generic and got boring after the first watch. Often skip those scenes to get to the meat.
Boy did I dig this movie from the day I saw it at the cinema. Visually it blows my mind. Keep my eye out for Tarsem Singh's films because of it. Feels like I'm the only Immortals fan I know. Now that could be an Unpopular Opinion entry. But to be honest, the real world bits are very generic and got boring after the first watch. Often skip those scenes to get to the meat.
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3:04AM on 03/26/2015

even when I was 15 when I saw this movie

I knew it was a genius movie. something very different from the norm. Gorgeous movie.
I knew it was a genius movie. something very different from the norm. Gorgeous movie.
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9:01PM on 03/26/2015
Agree 100 percent bro.
Agree 100 percent bro.
+0
2:35AM on 03/26/2015
I really like this movie as well. The visual elements are off the charts. And that scene with the horse.....
I really like this movie as well. The visual elements are off the charts. And that scene with the horse.....
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1:55AM on 03/26/2015
I agree, great film. a horror movie never looked so awesome
I agree, great film. a horror movie never looked so awesome
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1:36AM on 03/26/2015
I love this movie. One of my favorites.
I love this movie. One of my favorites.
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1:22AM on 03/26/2015
Hmm...been a while since I've seen it. I think a re-watch may be in order. Also, I've never been of the mind that every film needs to follow the same storytelling rubric about plot and character depth/development, etc. Some are just more abstract and formalistic visual exercises.

I think Blackhat deserves to be defended on here. It's not a genre flick or techno-thriller as people expected, but rather, half cyber procedural/ half avante garde art film. Not super exciting or eventful, but
Hmm...been a while since I've seen it. I think a re-watch may be in order. Also, I've never been of the mind that every film needs to follow the same storytelling rubric about plot and character depth/development, etc. Some are just more abstract and formalistic visual exercises.

I think Blackhat deserves to be defended on here. It's not a genre flick or techno-thriller as people expected, but rather, half cyber procedural/ half avante garde art film. Not super exciting or eventful, but beautifully abstract with great shootouts, a synthy score, and a very violent and artistic final set piece.
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