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An excruciatingly unsettling sci-fi horror capable of causing sleepless nights more than 20 years later

Leaving the lights on is the only course of action.

the cell
Image via New Line Cinema

Calling a movie that earned upwards of $100 million at the box office, secured an Academy Award nomination, and spawned a sequel (albeit an awful and entirely unconnected one) a decade later “underrated” or “overlooked” might not seem to hold much water, but anyone to have witnessed The Cell firsthand will know full well it doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves.

Critics were left fairly cold on director Tarsem Singh’s feature-length debut to be fair, but a 45 percent approval rating seems a touch on the harsh side. Sure, the narrative might become increasingly convoluted and muddled, but on a purely visual and aesthetic level it’s hardly stretching the boundaries of credulity to call The Cell one of the 21st Century’s finest terrors.

the cell
via New Line Cinema

Even now, a retrospective Reddit thread has hammered home the notion this is a mind-bending psychological nightmare that gets under the skin, sinks in its hooks, and then refuses to let go at any cost, with Jennifer Lopez giving arguably her most underrated turn as a psychologist conducting experimental VR tests that allow her to enter the minds of coma patients.

Obviously, being approached by the FBI to lend an assist interrogating an apprehended serial killer does not go to plan, leading to a psychedelic descent into a jarring alternate reality that’s a feast for the eyeballs and a sledgehammer to the brain in equal measure.

It may not be an all-time classic, but The Cell is an unforgettable experience nonetheless, one that continues to haunt the dreams of gorehounds everywhere more than 20 years on from its initial release.

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Scott Campbell

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