Directed by Tarsem Singh, The Cell is not a movie for everyone. In fact, it wasn't a movie for most critics when it hit theaters in 2000. According to the official blurb on Rotten Tomatoes, the film "is undermined by a weak and shallow plotline that offers nothing new." True, you can tell The Cell is borrowing from movies like The Silence of the Lambs—but man, it is it borrowing with panache.
Hailed by Roger Ebert—one of the few critics who actually liked it—as "one of the best films of the year," The Cell tells the story of Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), a child psychologist who uses some impressive tech to enter the subconscious of a comatose boy, hoping to bring him back into the real world. Thanks to her unique set of skills, she's asked by an FBI agent (Vince Vaughn) to explore the mind of an unconscious serial killer named Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio).
Before suffering from a seizure, Stargher imprisoned a girl in a bizarre death trap, and now she only has hours left to live. Deane is tasked with finding her whereabouts, but this is easier said than done. Stargher's subconscious is a nightmare world of torture devices, horned monsters, and living dolls that resemble his victims. It's an S&M fever dream where corpses are bathed in blood, horses are dissected with glass slides, and men have their intestines slowly pulled from their bodies.
Yeah, The Cell is totally depraved, but it's oh so gorgeous to look at. As pointed out by Andre Dumas of The Horror Digest, Stargher's subconscious is a horrific tribute to artists like Damien Hirst, Odd Nerdrum, and H.R. Giger. And if you're into costumes, then you're in for a grotesque treat, as designer Eiko Ishioka has created a world of muscular red jumpsuits, demonic purple wings, massive golden crowns, and sadistic sci-fi masks. Better still, the sets are practical, the performances are on point, and the result is something big, bloody, and perversely beautiful.