Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Cell by Stephen King

A while back now while browsing the book section at Costco I came across a novel simply titled Cell. Due to its curious cover I picked up the book and began browsing. Needless to say I bought the book soon after. Little did I know this would be my first foray into the world of Stephen King.

Stephen King is of course the best selling author and horror writer who perhaps has defined horror in the last half century and thus needs no introduction.

As a note this contains mild spoilers regarding both the book and the film so consider yourself warned.

The novel Cell opens in Boston, with graphic novelist Clayton Riddell who has just landed a graphic novel deal. To ruin his day a sudden pulse (from hereon in referred to as "the Pulse") is sent out over the global cellular communications network turning anyone who uses their cellphone into a mindless zombie like killer. This escalates a series of events as Clay must escape the horde of gibbering madmen and teams up with middle aged Tom McCourt and teen aged traumatized survivor Alice Maxwell.

As the book goes on we learn the "phoners" (as they have been dubbed) are banding together in groups called "flocks" who are mutually supportive, and as time goes on, they disturbingly seem to find a sense of purpose under the leadership of the spookily intelligent "Raggedy Man" who seems to lead the flocks on a national level.

The book is an intelligent and unique take on the zombie genre, with all the wit and terror that Stephen King can whip up to make it more interesting. For instance the phoners are all terrifying less in that they are a mindless horde, but rather the fact that they're a terrifying hive mind that can operate miles apart and still keep going. Their dream invading terror and other abilities mark them as a great departure from the regular zombie genre. The simple yet inventive nature of the Pulse allows the reader to simply jump into great chaos from the get go. It's an excellent post-apocalyptic zombie novel which fascinates the reader to no end and keep you guessing all the way to the conclusion.

Now of course back in 2016 it was adapted into a film, which was something I had been waiting for ever since I read the book.

Unfortunately, the film was not very good, and it rather deservedly holds a single star on Netflix.

The film, from the get go, had a troubled production history with Eli Roth originally being chosen to direct the film, and Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who successfully adapted the King short story 1408, into a fantastic film) were chosen to create the screenplay. However, Roth backed out of the project in 2009 citing creative differences with the studio, and the original screenplay seems to have been inexplicably dropped or never finished, with Stephen King writing his own screenplay which was completed in 2009, but that appears to have been added to by Adam Alleca. This all seems to have contributed to the detriment of the film,

The casting though, seemed rather solid, with the 1408 team of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson returning to play the roles of Clay and Tom respectively, and Isabelle Fuhrman as Alice. The supporting cast though, was not quite so strong with relative unknowns being put in some positions and really only the phenomenal voice of Stacey Keach contributing at all to the film.

From the beginning you can see the film suffers from budget issues, with poor quality effects, and very poor sound (even with the volume at maximum I could only understand the movie without subtitles while wearing headphones) and make up and gore effects which don't quite work.

The script seems to have suffered from multiple changes. This might explain the bad acting on behalf of all the main characters, who seem to bounce from one emotional state to another for no reason, and make adjustments absurdly fast to their situation with little indication of time passing being given. The dialogue is uninspired and relatively uninteresting on top of that. Jackson appears bored and uninspired through the film while Fuhrman seems underwhelmed and aimless in her performance, and Cusack lists from being a Nicholas Cage look alike to being a dull mannequin who does nothing. The supporting cast isn't much better, and the "Raggedy Man" stand in "The King of the Internet" (and no that name is never explained) is completely underwhelming and seems like only a bit character. In fact he is apparently set up earlier in the film, but even going back I could not find any reference to him and felt like he stumbled onto the set and just milled around there waiting for the director to tell him to do something. 

The script still seems like the weakest part of the film since it drags down the characters and seems to have been a spliced together version of different scripts. The ending is perhaps the worst part, a boring and confusing mess where I can't understand why anything is happening. In fact it's so hard to follow and even looks like they simply sewed three different endings together in an attempt to create suspense, but failed miserably.

Despite this, there are a few good shots and ideas presented in the film (the phoners gaining the ability to pass on the Pulse through their mouths) and some interesting scenes. 

However, as far as Stephen King adaptations go, this is one of the worst, I would not recommend seeing the film, but would encourage people to read the book, especially if you're tired of the mainstream zombie genre and would rather have something new.

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