2000. Directed by Tarsem Singh.
Tarsem Singh's directorial debut The Cell is nightmare personification storytelling in a too tight package.
Jennifer Lopez stars as a therapist, Catherine Deane who uses virtual reality to enter the minds of her patients in an effort to cure them of psychological paralysis. The FBI reaches out to her when a serial killer is found in a coma and the authorities believe has still has one victim trapped in a time triggered death machine. Catherine enters the twisted mind of the killer and her notions of reality and dream become dangerously mixed.
Anyone who's viewed this film knows it's shockingly, inhumanly beautiful. Singh is known for his visual talent and The Cell is pure showcase. Michelle Burke and Edouard Henriques' makeup treatment was so enchanting and simultaneously horrifying that they nabbed an Academy Award nomination. Their monstrous creations of the killer's mind were captured by Paul Laufer's chromatic bonanza cinematography. Every scene in the dreamscape bursts with violent colors, drawing you into the abyss of a depraved mind.
Jennifer Lopez gives her finest performance as the lead, while Vince Vaughan does an admirable job with very little. Vincent D'Onofrio is the showstopper as Stargher, the serial murderer whose mind is being explored. He is able to harness unabashed vulnerability as a child abuse victim in one scene and then completely lose himself as the dark side of his character's psyche, a tyrant of the dark and a legend in his own mind.
I remember watching this sixteen years ago and thinking that it was a gorgeous disaster. Every single scene, especially in D'Onofrio's mind, is one of kind stuff. Singh draws from other directors (the sleeping chamber is pure Cronenberg) but manages to make his own product by abandoning any sort of depth to the narrative and focusing purely on the aesthetic, but in a very committed presentation.
This is why the film disappointed so many upon release. The first third of the film is setup that the audience doesn't need. You spend your time wanting Lopez to return to the other world and I think if the script, written by Mark Protosevich had allowed for a more deeper exploration of Stargher's mind and the symbolism and horrors within, it would have elevated The Cell to new heights. It's the grounding of the story in reality that causes so much friction with the surreal inner heart that leads to the film faltering in the final act.
Despite this, The Cell is an important film. Aside from it's groundbreaking visual feats, it's also a very realistic portrayal of the effects of child abuse and the power of breaking the cycle of torment,
Available for purchase digitally, The Cell is a really unique film with some colossal ideas presented with truly breathtaking images. Ignore the reality within and just revel in the nightmare.