New Line // 2007 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // June 19th, 2009
Into the mind of a madman.
In 2000, J-Lo, Vince Vaughn, and Vincent D'Onofrio took us on a shallow but stylish journey into the fractured mind of a serial killer. Though The Cell was a fair success at the box office, it took nearly a decade and fraction of the budget for somebody to produce a sequel. Surprise, this one's stylish and shallow too, but has very little to do with the original.
A serial killer known as the Cusp is on the loose and the FBI is baffled. This creep kidnaps women and, using an apparently extensive knowledge of medical science, kills them and then revives them, over and over until they beg for death. Maya (Tessie Santiago, The Way Back Home) was the first victim of the Cusp. She was "killed" six times, but the killer made a mistake by dumping her body before he checked to make sure she was dead. As a result of her ordeal, Maya has somehow developed the ability to enter the killer's mind. Enlisted by the Feds to aid in the investigation, she's hot on the trail of the Cusp, but the authorities must find him quickly before she becomes trapped inside his sadistic brain forever.
Ok, so I lied; they do manage to connect this low-budget thriller with its expensive predecessor by mentioning J-Lo's character at the very beginning but, after that, this film could have been called almost anything else, and may actually have been originally titled "The Cusp," based on how the producers talk about it. If you missed the original, don't worry. This film is completely separate from the 2000 film and you won't miss a thing.
While the premise of The Cell 2 is fairly ridiculous and the results on screen are pretty far-fetched, director Tim Iacofano (TV's 24) makes economical use of his resources and manages a surprisingly effective little film. Most importantly, the film boasts a gimmick for the killer that is sot only a reasonably novel concept, it significantly reduces the amount of money necessary to pay actors. Normally, the killer walks through victim after victim until the final showdown, which takes a lot of performers. Instead, because the villain kills the same victim over and over for his sadistic pleasures, they can show multiple brutalities but only have to use one person, in this case, Amee Walden (Ice Spiders), who does a fine job at the role. This saves money that can now be used on production values, making the overall look of the film a lot nicer than a budget this size can normally afford.
The performances are not so great, but one person really shines. This isn't much of a spoiler; the writers make no secret about who the Cusp is, but Frank Whaley (Swimming with Sharks) makes a very good madman. Maybe it's his weathered, but somehow still boyish face or his cadence when he rants, but something about him is convincingly creepy. He is believable because he is an intelligent killer, not a particularly strong one, and never tries to overpower anybody, instead relying on guile. Tessie Santiago in the lead role is below average at best, mostly appearing confused while droning out her lines. She is very attractive and relies on that to get through, but the role could have been a lot more. The rest of the cast tries their best, but they have to spout some awfully laughable dialog sometimes, so there's not a whole lot they could do.
The producers, however, saved all that money on performers to bolster the real strength of the film: the sets and visual effects. Shot almost entirely in Salt Lake City, UT, they were able to take advantage of many huge abandoned spaces to build their sets and the results are suitably intimidating. The effects, as well, are impressive for the budget. Some look pretty cheap, sure, but what they lack in realism, they make up for in creativity. When Maya goes into people's heads, she enters a corridor lined with windows where she can pick and choose the places of the mind she'll enter. Aside from the fact that entering the corridor makes her change into a slinky black dress, in which she looks fantastic though it doesn't make any sense, this is a very cool effect. She picks the windows off the wall and holds them; while they look like ordinary windows on the wall, they take on a viscous quality in her hands. Along with many other little things, the effects do a lot to make up for some glaring deficiencies in the film; good work.
New Line has done a good job with their straight-to-DVD release of The Cell 2. The image looks excellent for this level of film. Edges are sharp and there is good clarity inside and out. Much of the film is very dark, but there is no noticeable blocking and colors are full and rich even at the darkest times. The sound is equally good, taking full advantage of the rear channels and subwoofer, lending an immersive feeling that adds to the dread. The only extra is a half hour making-of featurette that is better than most. Without ever congratulating themselves, they briefly detail every aspect of the production. Every is very informative about their individual roles and everyone seems thrilled to have been a part of the production.
In the grand pantheon of thrillers, The Cell 2, with its convoluted plot and marginal performances, isn't making anybody's top ten list. The villain, however, is quite good with an interesting gimmick, the film looks really cool for its budget, and it doesn't take itself very seriously at all. I liked this sequel, made for a fraction of the money, just as much, if not more, than the original.
In spite of all its faults, The Cell 2 is not guilty. Case
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R