After seeing “Cell” I wanted to call my grandmother who, with the emergence of the world’s first iPhone in June of 2007, predicted the end of civilization as we know it. Five months later she passed away, and some of my cousins whispered that perhaps it was the curse of technology that did her in, or she had been hexed by Steve Jobs.

A decade after Grandma’s dire prophecy, we in Japan get to see “Cell,” a horror tale involving just what Grandma had warned us about. Based on a 2006 Stephen King novel of the same name and actually co-written by the horror master himself, “Cell” begins with an unnerving sequence in an airport. Divorcee dad Clay (John Cusack) is about to board a plane to see his young son Johnny (Ethan Andrew Casto) in Maine. Like everyone else, Clay is clutching his phone, promising to go home and spend some quality time with the boy. Then Clay’s phone goes dead and he hastily tries to resume the conversation on a pay phone.

But something is radically wrong: All around Clay, people have suddenly started turning into mouth-frothing, murderous brutes — the departure terminal is a war zone and the floors are slick with blood. Some sort of signal had been transmitted from mobile phones and anyone who happened to be using one (which is to say, just about the entire human race) can’t help but mangle the nearest person.

Run Time 98 mins
Language ENGLISH
Opens FEB. 17

A word about King and screenplays: His magic, undeniable in his novel writing, doesn’t extend to this particular field. The greatest King screen successes —”Misery,” “The Shining,” “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” — were actually penned by other people. (Frank Darabont was a long-time collaborator.) When King tries his own hand at screenplays, they don’t quite work out — take a look at “Silver Bullet” or “Sleepwalkers.” Unfortunately, “Cell” is no exception. After those first, riveting scenes, the movie hurtles toward an ending that’s neither conclusive or artfully mysterious, leaving the audience deeply unsatisfied.

Worst of all, there’s very little back story to anyone of anything, and apart from Clay, none of the characters seems to have a past or people they care about. The reason behind this violence-generating pulse is never made clear and director Tod Williams isn’t about to supply an explanation.

This is regrettable, since the smartphone is indeed the overwhelming, overriding, almighty device that defines our existence on Earth (according to the movie, 6 billion people are cellphone owners) and this is the perfect opportunity to ponder the consequences of our dependency — or, to put it more accurately, our downright addiction to them. The scene at the airport is horrific in more ways than one: The entire terminal is a sea of faces bent over little screens and when all hell breaks loose, no one lets go of their phones because everyone is too accustomed to thinking that a digital connection is good. Connection will save them.

The phone-as-evil concept makes a fast exit as “Cell” morphs into a zombie-like flick that bears the unmistakable patina of Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later.” Clay teams up with fellow survivor Tom (Samuel L. Jackson) and a handful of others, including Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman), to wipe out the zombified “phoners” — not so much to restore humanity but to locate others who have managed to retain their sanity (hankering for connection again).

To this end, the unaffected turn into a battalion of shotgun-wielders who fire round after round into their enemies without blinking twice, which is strange when you consider that Clay is a graphic artist who had probably never fired a gun in his life and Alice looks like a nice girl, paying off her student loans with a barista job. As for Tom, he’s undistinguishable from Jackson’s other cinema personas, which consist of little more than mayhem and wisecracks.

Stephen King does leave us with something to think about: Not even hell-fire and brimstone can separate us from our phones. Sorry, Grandma.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.


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