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The Cell (2000)
Director: Tarsem Singh
review by Jeff Young
Serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio) was raised and still lives in a world totally without love of any kind. We enter his subconscious via the familiar SF devices of virtual reality and brain-reading machinery to discover there's a timid young boy lost in the torture chambers and hellish halls of his twisted psyche. Jennifer Lopez plays the psychic scientist with a talent for reaching troubled personalities, who descends into Stargher's explicitly self-deifying scenarios on a mission to learn the whereabouts of his latest imprisoned, endangered captive - necessary because doll-maker Stargher (who is so detached from humanity he doesn't even want to be present when his victims die) has suffered a schizoid blackout. Can she beat the clock? Is there a way to overcome the ritualistic obsessions of the villain's sick mind?
Debutant director Tarsem Singh's superbly confident artistic vision combines bold use of colour schemes with some highly impressive set designs, to generate considerable power in the film's eclectic range of nightmarish dreamscapes. At it's most disturbing when we are invited to admire the arch cruelties on display, then to pity the killer, The Cell delivers a host of grotesquely beautiful images as it borrows from genre movies (from Coma to Brainstorm), fantasy art (paint and digital, from Bosch to Barclay Shaw) and horror fiction (Stargher is like a distant outlaw cousin of Clive Barker's evil Cenobites). A self-confessed admirer of Lynch and Cronenberg, former commercials maker Tarsem's astounding images convey both a sense of Stargher's acute misogyny and the fixated gaze of the surrealist in a neo-psychedelic wonderland. The Cell isn't a masterpiece because its narrative is too weak, but it certainly spotlights its director as a man to watch.
previously published online, VideoVista #26 - May 2001
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