Reviewed by Michael Erb
When I saw the poster for this movie, two things immediately popped into my head:
1. This poster directly affects my desire to see this movie.
2. That guy has an anus where his face should be.
Poster aside, Cell Count is a little hard to get a handle on. Tons of ideas are thrown into the narrative without support or explanation. Most of the characters are barely defined, if defined at all. There’s so very little information given on important plot details that the movie eventually loses itself. Logic is introduced an abandon when convenient for the plot. The movie is a sickly mess.
Cell Count begins with Russell by his wife Sadie’s bedside in a hospital, waiting for her to die a slow and expensive death from an unnamed disease. Sadie’s mad scientist physician Dr. Brandt tells Russell about a study he’s conducting that will cure his wife’s disease for free. Russel agrees and at first the cure appears to work. But, there are two inmates involved with the study that Brandt never told anyone about. The previously disease free participants and the sick ones receive matching surgical scars. And there are also the sudden, bloody body transformations of the cured subjects. As the study progresses, Russell and Sadie come to find that the cure is worse than the disease.
The greatest flaw Cell Count suffers is that it’s bursting with ideas that don’t get developed past their introduction. For example: the disease is kept vague. That might seem inconsequential, but it becomes a persistently annoying feature. The characters never name it and its symptoms aren’t clear outside of people coughing and looking sickly. Without any description of what these people are going through, their plight is hard to empathize with.
Additionally, the cure is kept painfully vague. No name, no description of treatment. The only definition the cure receives comes from the horrific body changes that come later in the film. This could be a creative decision to allow viewers to put their own thoughts on what the illness is, but it just smacks of lazy story telling. This vagueness extends to every other aspect of the story. The study participants and thinly characterized outside of a clairvoyant guy, who has the most defined arc of the whole movie. But, his introduction leads to another issue.
There are too many ideas competing with too little development. The cure being a sentient, parasitic life form fights for relevancy with many more ideas that have taken up entire films. One of the convicts is a child molester/murder who went through the earliest stages of the cure testing process. There’s the prophetic young man who’s trying to avert a disastrous future. And then there’s the ending. In the last twenty minutes the story blows up with entirely new ideas about where this facility is located, the later stages of cure transformation, and just how much the disease has ravaged the world. The ending sets up a sequel which is coming out, but it doesn’t conclude the story in any way. There’s no resolution of the threat of the cure or the disease, nor any resolution for the characters. Everyone just gets in place for the next chapter of the Cell Count saga.
There’s also an issue with the complete abandonment of logic that sporadically occurs. Somehow, people with open surgery scars and gunshot wounds in their stomach are walking around like they just sprained something at T Ball practice. The established timetable for the cure to gestate into Cronenberg terrors is ignored so the viewer won’t expect who’s going to transform next. Characters who decide to die in the explosive climax change their minds seemingly because Daniel Baldwin is outside and he has a bus. There’s no consistency to the reasoning and reality of this movie.
The practical gore work looks appropriately sickly. Diseased flesh, open surgery wounds, and a face enveloping skin-flap are disgustingly well done. The brief instances of CGI usage don’t fare as well. It is clear those shots were done for budgetary reasons; they look extraordinarily cheap and they’re used for mere seconds. Overall though, Cell Count isn’t as bloody as you might think. So much time is spent on exposition and the slow build that the gore is limited to a handful of moments.
The cast is mostly competent with precious few noteworthy performances. Robert McKeehen and Haley Talbot as Russell and Sadie share the best work of the film. Separately, the two actors are just as disconnected and uninterested as everyone else in the cast. But as a couple, the pair shows off a nuanced collaboration. The little looks and slight touches they trade make their screen relationship feel real. Otherwise, the majority of the cast shovels out their lines without any real emotion or direction.
You have to admire the ambition of writer/director/editor Todd E. Freeman. With Cell Count, he wants to do a body horror movie, expand the idea into a sci-fi thriller, and setup the sequel to be an epic with a completely different tone. However, instead of developing these ideas, the movie just keeps ramming new wrinkle after new wrinkle into an already overloaded narrative. Cell Count wanted to do a lot with a little and forgot to tell a story along the way. Also, not nearly enough Anus Face.