Brilliant for its Appalachian Tennessee vernacular, its compelling country characters, their lives dessicated, limited, dull, as well as for the vivid impressions of a landscape of backwoods, mountains, and caves afflicted by the harsh temperament of weather. And, most of all – for conveying the rapidly deteriorating, twisted impulses of a hypothalamus-ordered mind in the shape of Lewis Ballard, outcast, bitter, serial killer and necrophiliac.
Depressingly, it’s also let down by intermittent, obtrusive break-outs of ugly purple prose so bloated with highfalutin phrases they ruin an entire scene and atmosphere McCarthy has otherwise done wonders to portray. Without those terrible moments, this would be a five-star fiction. With them, it’s a three but still worth reading for what it does achieve as an early work by an important writer.
Out of all the horror/thriller movies I’ve ever seen, Tarsem Singh‘s The Cell (2000) remains for me the most truly stunning in terms of spectacle for both costume and set design; both are the most beautiful and disturbing designs and creations I have ever seen. Costumes (Eiko Ishoka) and set design (Tom Foden) are themselves worthy of Oscars (though in 2001, it was sadly only nominated for Best Makeup). (By the way, if you want to buy this movie in the DVD Region 1/US version, click here.)
Besides that it is incredible visually, the film also has one of Jennifer Lopez‘s stronger performances, and deals with an endlessly fascinating subject: the serial killer/psychopath. In this film, however, you experience the reality of one psycho’s world, fully realised. It makes Hieronymus Bosch‘s paintings of the 15th century seem like gentle fairy-tale pictures in comparison.
Unfortunately, while the early part of the following clip — in fact the official Trailer — here does not do the movie full justice in terms of its visuals, it does give you a vivid sense of the growing tension and creepiness that is to be enjoyed. However, from the 1:13 mark (1 minute 13 seconds into the clip), you are then given some real treats as to what’s in store for you.
Not only is it Jennifer Lopez’s best film (likewise, Vince Vaughan‘s; the last time on film he looked sexy!), but also I think it is genuinely unique in terms of the quality and depth of how it presents the inner world of a particular serial killer psychopath. While the film firmly places itself within the serial killer genre – the quality of the imaginative visuals makes it stand out across all the genres of horror, drama, thriller — and the surreal.
As the cliché, goes: Hand on heart…It is an amazing, brilliant film, and greatest tour de force hats-off to Tarsem Singh, the director, and the original script writer, Mark Protosevich. As for Tom Foden and Eiko Ishoka — you are frickin fabby fabpants fabulous and anyone who says otherwise is a frickin kumquat!
This movie is an evolution of earlier films of this type, beginning with Spielberg’s first smash-hit, Duel(based on a script by the fabulously talented horror writer Richard Matheson, and starring Dennis Weaver in what is arguably his best role ever; utterly convincing as a mild-mannered travelling salesman who unintentionally angers the driver of a huge truck and for the course of the film, is on a hell-bound journey while ironically trying to escape this demon), as well as the classic first Hitcher film scripted by Eric Red, Hitcher(1986), which is a cracking whizz of a thriller, with Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and he also wrote The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting (2007), but sadly, even though it still has C. Thomas Howell (still looking good), this is far from scary and doesn’t merit comparing with the first.
In other words, adolescent innocents are stalked by a psychopath while driving on the highway. While this is a gripping movie — the tension, the acting, the dialogue all work — the one element that frustrates, overwhelmingly so, is the brother in this film, who brings on/invites all the trouble that later occurs.
For that reason, you’re continuously anger/p*issed off that the idiot older brother, has initiated the trouble because of his dumbass prankster behaviour. Having said that, it’s still a tightly plotted, high testosterone movie, with great performances by Steven Zahn — the idiot older brother/prankster — Paul Walker — convincing in his role, and has a certain charm on-screen that you can’t help but be drawn into — and the always gorgeous, multi-talentedly convincing Leelee Sobieski (and who, no matter how many years pass by, seems to keep her teenager looks; I think there’s a picture in an attic somewhere. The psycho of the film is, appropriately, relentless and terrifying; like all psychos, bless em: nothing will satisfy him save death of those he stalks and, if necessary, himself. But he’s too clever by half.
The only really damning criticism of the film is that Steven Zahn/older brother is such an absolutely irritating frickin moron, So irritating, because you know he initiated the nightmare with his prank that he insists his younger brother should play, that the rest of the film remains on a level of tension entirely to do with the audience’s awareness that he‘s caused the problems in the first place. I just wish they’d found another way of getting chased and terrified by the psycho, because Zahn has a natural charm on-screen and it’s a shame to spend time during the movie thinking “turdbrain!” “MUPPET!”, and “why does his brother go along with this cosmic-sized a-hole?!”
But please do be reassured the movie is genuinely a fuel-driven, high-testosterone, relentless ride of tension and anxiety and the dramatic scenes, of which they are plenty, are played very well. (Interestingly, too, J. J. Abrams co-wrote this script; it must have been one of his early ones, but you can see already his understanding of dramatic plot developments and intense scenes; no wonder he’s since become one of the darlings of Hollywood – one thinks of his scripts for Mission Impossible 3 (Single Disc), Region 2, not viewable outside Europe — this is the link for Region 1 DVD version, besides his originating Lost, the inexplicable worldwide smash hit series, which I did admittedly want to smash and hit often.) Worth watching? You betcha. Just make sure you keep your seat belts on when you see it, because it’s one helluva ride.