Visual elements make ‘The Cell’ stunning, shocking

By Jim Vorel

Roger Ebert’s film festival tends to draw a diverse crowd. There are not many venues or events one can attend in Champaign-Urbana where veteran, possibly elderly patrons of the arts can be found hobnobbing with young twenty-somethings in leather jackets and ever-present cigarettes.

The crowd for Saturday evening’s screening of “The Cell,” directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Jennifer Lopez, was much the same, though ultimately divided over the film’s graphic material.

Director Singh, in his pre-screening notes about the film, said he was instructed by studio execs to “make it pop,” and he has done so, by exposing audiences to the depraved mind of a psychopath; closer exposure than most would ever desire. This, said Singh, is what makes the killer a figure of true loathing.

“I didn’t want people to laugh at this serial killer,” Singh said, explaining why he felt it was necessary to include scenes of graphic, sexual violence. These scenes, he said, give the film the sort of emotional gravitas necessary to make audiences take the characters seriously.

Not all audience members agreed.

During the post-screening question and answer, one outspoken member of the audience stated that she believed Singh had gone too far, and exploited the violence for shock value. Singh admitted that it was sometimes hard to know where to draw the line, but said he still believes the film is better for having these scenes.

Visually, “The Cell” is a stunning film. Chaz Ebert called it “a feast for the eyes,” and every scene drips with tension and suspense.

Gabrielle Ballone, sophomore in the College of ACES, was in the audience Saturday night for the screening of “The Cell”. Her father, a devoted fan of Roger Ebert, brought her along to the festival. She said she appreciated the change of pace from previous festival films of the year.

“I’ve heard it’s very creepy and spooky,” said Ballone. “I’m a big fan of scary, eccentric movies, and compared to the rest of the films that are being shown in the festival, I knew it would definitely be unique.”