The Cell

USA/Germany 2000

Reviewed by Ken Hollings


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

California, the present. Catherine Deane is a psychotherapist employed by the Campbell Center to experiment with a new treatment that permits her to enter the minds of catatonic patients. The technique, involving drugs and an advanced cybernetic bodysuit, is being used on a comatose boy who fails to show any signs of recovery. Meanwhile psychotic serial killer Carl Stargher suffers an irreversible neural breakdown following his arrest by the FBI and falls into a coma.

With Stargher's last female victim still imprisoned in his secret cell, which is slowly filling with water, the FBI ask Deane to search Stargher's mind for information about the girl's whereabouts. However, when Deane becomes trapped within Stargher's sadistic inner fantasies, believing them to be real, FBI agent Peter Novak enters the killer's mind to rescue her. Novak also uncovers a clue to the cell's location, and while he rushes to free the trapped girl, Deane invites Stargher into her own mind, where she overcomes his murderous nature, allowing him to die in peace. Equipped with this new therapeutic method of bringing subjects into her own consciousness, Deane returns to treating her young patient.


The latest sign of Hollywood's unconsummated digital affair with virtual reality, Tarsem Singh's directorial debut occupies the hinterland between the deep sensory immersion experiments of the 90s and a 60s LSD head trip. "According to the FBI," agent Novak remarks to his travelling companion, psychotherapist Deane, after his journey through the inner world of a comatose serial killer, "you put me through a drug-fuelled mind-bender". There's little evidence to say he's wrong. The film vibrates with references to psychedelic mental overload, from Howard Shore's resonant score featuring the Master Musicians of Jajouka and dissonant orchestral references to Ligeti and the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life' to the similarity between the vertiginous hallucinatory lightshow that greets Novak's entry into killer Stargher's consciousness and that experienced by astronaut Bowman at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

The Cell establishes an intriguing correlation between Deane's pad and the serial killer's workshop; the ingenious paraphernalia assembled by Stargher for his sexualised murders finds a direct counterpart in the lush contents of Deane's apartment, where she is shown sitting at her iMac smoking a joint, listening to dub reggae. This attention to detail is typical of Tarsem (he tends to be known only by his first name): a prize-winning director of television commercials and music videos, he loads the screen with a dizzying display of gimcracks and references to such eclectic cultural artefacts as Piranesi's Carceri engravings, Oscar Schlemmer's Bauhaus costume designs and Damien Hirst's artworks. There's plenty here to keep the eye busy, but this kind of visual chewing-gum can't completely divert attention from the fact that Mark Protosevich's patchy script - which at times resembles The Silence of the Lambs rewritten by Carlos Castaneda - doesn't have much else going for it. With little room for either narrative detail or character development, Tarsem's exploration of a deranged mind soon loses momentum. By the time Deane gets in touch with Stargher's inner child, still tortured by memories of his abusive father, the dense fetishism of the original imagery has given way to camp metaphysical banalities and sketchy plot resolutions.

There's also something vaguely trite about characters having to remind each other of what is real and what is fantasy in a film where the FBI can assemble scores of heavily armed police at a moment's notice and on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence. However, Tarsem's consummate ability to create small glossy fantasies out of inanimate consumer durables provides The Cell with its greatest and most hallucinatory irony. The material world that exists outside the main protagonists' minds has been captured with such close and loving attention to surface detail that every car, helicopter, building facade and interior threaten to take on a life of their own and overwhelm the poorly defined humans that move among them. Beyond computer-generated space, hallucinogenic drugs and violently aberrant psychologies, it seems that television commercials still constitute the ultimate virtual reality.


Tarsem Singh
Julio Caro
Eric Mcleod
Mark Protosevich
Director of Photography
Paul Laufer
Paul Rubell
Robert Duffy
Production Designer
Tom Foden
Music/Music Conductor/
Howard Shore
©Katira Production GmbH & Co. KG
Production Companies
New Line Cinema presents a Caro-McLeod/Radical Media production in association with Katira Productions GmbH & Co. KG/New Line Production Inc.
Executive Producers
Donna Langley
Carolyn Manetti
Mark Protosevich
Stephen J. Ross
Associate Producer
Nico Soultanakis
Production Executive
Erik Holmberg
Production Supervisors
Katherine E. Beyda
Tommy Turtle
Linzi Thomas
Production Controller
Paul Prokop
Production Co-ordinators
Gabrielle Wallack
Emily Glatter
Nancy Hallam
Beth Kolver
Unit Production Manager
Eric McLeod
Location Managers
Scott Alan Logan
Rick Matthews
Executive in Charge of:
Jody Levin
Sara Romilly
Assistant Directors
Michael Amundson
Frederic Roth
David Ascher
Bradley Morris
Visual Effects 2nd Unit Photography:
Greg Goldstone
Fernando Castroman
Script Supervisors
Judi Townsend
Visual Effects 2nd Unit Photography:
Randi Feldman
Ronna Kress
ADR Voice:
L.A. MadDogs
Direct of Photography
Visual Effects 2nd Unit Photography:
David Drzewiecki
Camera Operators
Tony Gaudioz
David Nowell
Motion Control Operator
Visual Effects 2nd Unit Photography:
David Hardberger
Visual Effects Supervisor
Kevin Tod Haug
Executive in Charge of Visual Effects
Lauren Ritchie
Visual Effects Supervision Co-ordinator
Leslie McMinn
2nd Entry/Catherine's World- & Catmibia
Edward's World/1st Entry
Real World/3rd Entry
Amalgamated Pixels
Pre-visualization, Catherine's World Snow Development
Pixel Liberation Front
Additional Visual Effects
Blackbox Digital
Medical Monitor Design and Graphics
Milkshake Media
Katherine Jones
Brad Phillips
Jann Baskett
Visual Effects Plate Producer
Visual Effects 2nd Unit Photography:
JoAnn Knox
Special Effects
Clay Pinney
1st Unit Supervisor:
John Baker
Effects Shop Supervisor:
Bill Harrison
Effects Technicians:
Tony Centonze
Dave Wood
Josh Pinney
Al Marangoni
Jim Henry
Graphic Designer
Edwin Roses
Novak's Ride Computer Animation
Image Savant
Playback Animation
Blackbox Digital
Supervising Art Director
Geoff Hubbard
Art Director
Michael Manson
Set Designers
Dean Wolcott
Joshua Lusby
Luke Freeborn
Set Decorator
Tessa Posnansky
Textile Designer/Artist
Francine Le Coultre
Wil Rees
Patrik Janicke
Mariano Dias
Storyboard Artist
Trevor Goring
Costume Designers
Eiko Ishioka
April Napier
Costume Supervisor
Linda Matthews
Make-up/Specialty Make-up Design/Supervision/ Application
Michèle Burke
Key Artist:
Edouard Henriques
Camille Calvet
Special Make-up Effects Prosthetics Fabrication
K.N.B. EFX Group Inc
Department Supervisor:
Susan Germaine
Key Stylist:
Candace Neal
Judy Crown
Main Titles
Imaginary Forces
Main Title Sequence/
Digital Film and Opticals
Digital Film Supervisor:
Drake Conrad
Digital Film Co-ordinator:
Chad Malbon
Digital Film Technicians:
Ammon Riley
Andy Robinson
Pacific Title
Music Performed by
The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Bachir Attar
The Master Musicians of Jajouka
also featuring
Ney Flute:
Jan Hendrickse
Sonia Slany
1st Percussion:
Paul Clarvis
Executive in Charge of Music
Toby Emmerich
Music Executive
Dana Sano
Music Co-ordinator
Bob Bowen
Music Editor
Suzana Peric
Robert Cotnoir
Recording Engineer
Simon Rhodes
Auricle Operator
Chris Cozens
"O sciore cchiu Felice" -Alma Me Gretta; "You Can Find the Feeling (radio edit)" - The Master Musicians of Jajouka; "Mairzy Doats"
Sound Design/Sound Editors
Adam Johnston
Jayme Parker
Sound Design
John Paul Fasal
Production Sound Mixer
James Thornton
Re-recording Mixers
Robert Litt
Kevin E. Carpenter
Michael Herbick
Dubbing Recordists
Marsha Sorce
Kevin Webb
Supervising Sound Editor
J. Paul Huntsman
Dialogue Editor
Patrick J. Foley
Thomas G. Whiting
Rick Canelli
Thomas J. O'Connell
John Roesch
Alyson Moore
Carolyn Tapp
Mary Jo Lang
David L. Horton Jr
David M. Horton
FBI Consultant
Peter Weireter
Medical Technical Adviser
Donna Duffy
Stunt Co-ordinator
Jack Gill
Animal Action
Boone's Animals for Hollywood
Head Trainer:
David Allsberry
Ursula Brauner
Chip Matheson
Helicopter Pilot
Dirk Vahle
Film Extract
La Planète sauvage (1973)
Jennifer Lopez
Catherine Deane
Vince Vaughn
Agent Peter Novak
Vincent D'Onofrio
Carl Stargher
Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Dr Miriam Kent
Jake Weber
Agent Gordon Ramsey
Dylan Baker
Henry West
James Gammon
Dr Theodore 'Teddy' Lee
Tara Subkoff
Julia Hickson
Gerry Becker
Doctor Cooperman
Dean Norris
Agent Travis Cole
Musetta Vander
Ella Baines
Patrick Bauchau
Lucien Baines
Colton James
Edward Baines
Catherine Sutherland
Anne Marie Vicksey
Lauri Johnson
Mrs Hickson
John Cothran Jr
Agent Stockwell
Jack Conley
Agent Brock
Kamar de los Reyes
Officer Alexander
Christopher Janney
SWAT team member
Nicholas Cascone
FBI technician
Joe La Piana
FBI K-9 agent
Pruitt Taylor Vince
Dr Milton Reid
Jake Thomas
young Carl Stargher
Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls
Jennifer Dawn Day
Alanna Vicente
Aja Echols
Vanessa Branch
Elena Maddalo
Stargher's victims
Gareth Williams
Martin, Stargher's father
Glenda Chism
woman in tub
Monica Lacy
Joy Creel liefeld
Leanna Creel
Alan Purwin
helicopter pilot
Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd
9,812 feet
109 minutes 2 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS
Colour by
2.35:1 [Super 35]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011