Stephen King, one of the most celebrated authors and a master of horror, makes a triumphant return to the genre that made him such a well-known writer. Cell is the highly anticipated, blood-splattered, zombie- (they are dubbed “phone crazies” in the book) infested thriller that longtime fans have been craving.
Cell opens with King in full apocalyptic bombast. Clay Riddell, a comic book artist who has just sealed a deal for one of his works and its sequel is eating an ice cream cone in the park when the world around him suddenly falls apart. There are explosions and fires and people brawling all around. The complete and utter mayhem in the Boston common is caused by a pulse sent through cell phones, which turns people into “phone crazies.” Clay soon meets up with Tim, a gay man, and Alice, a fifteen-year-old girl who has just lost her mother while on a shopping trip.
From there, Cell becomes what a zombie book can only be about – survival, with a subplot of Clay wanting to find his wife and son, Johnny. Like all stories, it has its plusses and minuses, but there is more right than wrong, depending on where you are coming from. If you are one of King’s constant readers, then your expectations might be too high, which is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario that I think is unfair to King or any artist who stands the test of time. When you are blessed with such a long body of work, you inevitably will get the critical fans perspective - which is to say, in King’s case, that Cell is a similar scenario to one of his most treasured works, The Stand. Those who are less critical or haven’t read King in a while (or who just plain have the ability to judge the work on its own merits) will find Cell to be a solid overall story.
The audio production is spotty in parts, and it took a while for my ears to warm up to the tone of the Campbell Scott’s voice, but it did suit the material well. There is enough gore for those seeking that. And for those who will bash King for the language, all I have to say is that it’s an end-of-the-world type of scenario where the rules of etiquette pretty go much out the window. But most of all, there is a good story with good characterization that starts off hot but gets less hot about two-thirds of the way in.
In spite of the story’s flaws, it was still infinitely better then the latest rash of zombie films that have been released over the last few years. Some have gotten lost in trying to make a point, parable, or allegory without first and foremost being an entertaining movie. King makes his points, but there is no political overkill here (pun intended). My only real gripe (yes, there is a zombie ideology) is that I despise the idea that zombies have (I didn’t say they couldn’t to some degree) to somehow evolve: fast zombies, talking zombies, mind-reading zombies. What’s next? An Ivy League Zombie Institution! I like King’s clever and timely twist to the genre, but I think it is best to not explain (not that there was an explanation for “the pulse”) or even attempt to explain the zombie origin; it is better left unknown – and scarier, too.