The CellThe Cell is an example of style over substance, and in this case it works. Thanks to the stunning imagination of first time director Tarsem Singh, acclaimed director of various commercials and videos including REM's Losing My Religion. The images that pass on screen are both breathtaking and horrible, and Tarsem (as he wants to be known) combines them together seamlessly. The Cell is not for the squeamish, and it is best to suspend any moral judgements before entering the film. If not, then numerous scenes of fetish gear, bondage, nipple rings and torture will surely cause walkouts.
All of the imagery takes place within the mind of Stargher. It is Tarsem's way of showing the viewer what he believes goes on in the mind of a serial killer. Remember, all serial killers in movies must be extremely twisted, and Stargher is no exception. Tarsem effectively combines colors, props and camera angles to unease the viewer while filling them with a sense of awe. The opening shot shows Lopez in a white dress riding a black horse across a barren desert. The contrast is striking. Tarsem also favors changing the speed of shots, adding some sound and taking away others. One memorable shot is of a drop of blood, slowly falling into a puddle. Tarsem slows it down considerably and mutes out all other sound, so when the drop actually hits the water, it is thunderous. If some of the costumes look familiar, it's because Tarsem used Eiko Ishioka, the Academy Award winning costume designer from Bram Stoker's Dracula. The sets shift constantly from sumptuously regal rooms to dilapidated sewers, all showcasing how fragments Stargher's mind is.
All this covers what is essentially a familiar story by Mark Protosevich. The original element is that Deane can enter the mind of the serial killer. Otherwise, the characters go through the required actions before a nick-of-time ending. Lopez and Vaughn deliver their lines passively, neither seeming to care that much about actions around them. D'Onofrio shines here, playing numerous roles. He changes from maniacally evil to shy and withdrawn, and both fit his personality. The movie is nearly two hours, but most of it passes quickly because of the imagery. It's hard to imagine being so drawn to such horrible images, but Tarsem pulls it off in The Cell