The Cell is one of the more innovative films I've seen, and perhaps is a portent about the future state of film-making. The movie features breath-taking and surreal visuals combining science fiction and fantasy elements, a decent race against time plot involving a serial killer, and some pseudointellectual commentary on the effects of child abuse.
Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) is a child psychologist who is part of a therapeutic experiment that involves directly accessing the minds of comatose children in the hopes of helping them "wake up". Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio) is a serial killer of young girls whose method of execution (and sexual gratification) involves putting them in a chamber and filling it with water slowly while capturing the entire event on camera. In the process of taking care of his latest victim, Carl is apprehended by the police, but in a comatose stage. Catherine agrees to enter his mind to reveal the location of his last victim before she is drowned.
This is not a standard serial killer movie, because here the killer actually wants to be caught and punished. As Catherine enters Carl's mind, she slowly gains his trust and uncovers the motivations for his actions, which involves abuse as a child (including a harsh baptism). The film is compassionate in the portrayal of the killer and tries to make the point that even though there are some people who've been abused who turn out okay, it's non-trivial to run into the right set of circumstances that would enable one to break the vicious cycle. Yet, there is no excuse for harming another individual. The resolution of this difficult conundrum is handled well in the end.
Visually, the movie is a psychedelic trip, in a way reminding me of my experience at Burning Man 2000. Even though some of the visuals are cheesy (like tie-dye shirts are), they work well because of the context in which they are used. Director Tarsem Singh, who has made his name directing music videos, has selected the music well to complement the visuals, which makes the whole output more effective. Jennifer Lopez does a fine acting job and Vincent D'Onofrio is convincing in his portrayal of a serial killer who seeks redemption.
Ultimately because The Cell is somewhat closer to a work of art than an entertainment product, it will undoubtedly draw a polarised reaction. Like Being John Malkovich, also a debut film made by Spike Jonze, a director who primarily worked with music videos previously, this movie captures your imagination and does more than deliver pure entertainment. I highly recommend checking it out on the big screen.