Cell Count 2012
CELL COUNT: INTERESTING PREMISE, SOMEWHAT AWKWARD EXECUTION
Cell Count is a low budget film written and directed by Todd E. Freeman. Todd E. Freeman is part of a burgeoning Portland Oregon indie film movement. The film is low budget but it does manage to present itself in a very respectable way. Performances are decent and the film uses a prison facility that has a sterile feel to it that benefits the film’s story well. There are lots of blown out whites that reminded me of sterile white locations in George Lucas’ THX-1138 (1971). I’m not saying Cell Count is similar to Lucas’ film but I would argue that it does evoke a similar vibe at times.
Cell Count opens as Russell Carpenter (Robert MeKeehen) comforts his hospitalized wife, Sadie (Haley Talbot), at her bed side. Sadie is stricken with “the disease” and things do not look good. Russell holds and caresses Sadie doing his best to comfort her. Dr. Victor Brandt comes into the hospital room and asks to speak to Russell in private. Once Dr. Brandt is alone with Russell, he informs him that Sadie is dying form “the disease”. Dr. Brandt informs Russell that there is no hope unless he agrees to admit Sadie into an experimental treatment that he is overseeing. Dr. Brandt explains that he himself has undergone the experimental treatment and has beaten “the disease”. Russell, desperate for a cure for Sadie, agrees so long as he can come be by Sadie’s side. Dr. Brandt agrees so long as Russell agrees to undergo the cure as an undiseased control patient. The couple is flown by helicopter to a research facility where they will undergo the treatment.
Several weeks later Russell awakes with a treatment scar on his chest. He awakens in a sterile prison like facility. He stumbles, weak from prolonged sleep, and wanders into a common area where he finds other patients of the mysterious treatment. Among the other four patients he finds Sadie. Sadie now looks much better and appears to be cured. Via a video screen, a smiling women updates them on their situation. They will be under quarantine for another five days while the treatment runs its final course. The six patients are also informed that there two additional patients in another section of the facility. These other two patients are criminals that have agreed to participate in the treatment trial for reduced time on their prison sentence. One is a rapist and the other is a man who murdered the man who slept with his wife. The patients are told they will be safe so long as they follow the rules.
Cell Count features an interesting premise that sets things in motion well but the narrative is all over the place awkwardly answering the questions it raises with more questions. Why are the patients treated like prisoners? What is the mysterious disease and is the cure just as dangerous as the disease? Can Russell trust the mysterious Dr. Brandt?
Cell Count is definitely a low budget film but the use of a good location helps the film look better than budgeted for. Some moments do show budgetary limitations. The ride on the helicopter taking Russell and Sadie to the facility showed no helicopter but we did hear the helicopter rotors and see the shaky movement. When all is said and done the facility is apparently run by three people, Dr. Victor Brandt, Officer Raleigh Clark and Nurse Oberhauser. We never see any other people managing this large complicated facility.
One problem I had with film is that sometimes the narrative elements are arbitrarily introduced. These events and character choices did not seem to evolve organically. The characters do silly things without logical reasoning. A good example is when Sadie, who for no reason, visits the prisoner area when they were warned not to enter. They are dangerous after all. Mason says he knows what is coming like maybe he know the future but that is never used in any significant way. Mason also sees the Asian woman from the video instructionals but it does not seem to serve the story in any kind of way. Its just there for weirdness sake.
The performances in the film are a mixed bag. Some performances are good, Sadie and Billy. Some are just adequate, Russell , Dr. Brandt and William. Some are just bad, Mary Porter. Overall the performances do help the film. The problem with the film is not necessarily the performances but the story execution and clarity. The Daniel Baldwin, Blair Norris, character that just comes in out of the blue with zero setup.
Cell Count delivers some interesting gore and creature effects. Some of these are delivered using CGI. Normally I would be against this in my Horror but if you are working with a low budget and they can be done effectively then I’m open to it. Cell Count manages an effective mix of practical effects and CGI given that this is a low budget film. The exploding dog was a standout for me as was the creature that wraps itself around “Tiny Tim’s” head.
Honestly, I did enjoy Cell Count and found myself getting into the mystery of the strange research facility. I felt for a low budget film the filmmakers managed to put forth a good looking film. Interesting and fun creature effects are delivered helping to overshadow some of the narrative awkwardness. The ending to the film felt a bit forced and arbitrary as characters are introduced out the blue. The film tries to end with large spectacle but it feels arbitrarily thrown together. In the end film is somewhat interesting and a bit fun. Your enjoyment may depend on your tolerance of low budget film. I’ve seen worse. Support indie films and check this out.