Cell and its Tragic, Underrated Reputation

Cell, Stephen King’s black sheep, deserves more than it’s given credit for.

A lot of people will be surprised to discover that Cell is one of my favorite novels. Stephen King’s 2006 zombie romp is a fun read that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It doesn’t push any of the writer’s boundaries. It doesn’t bring too much of his signature worldbuilding to the table, but, for what it was, it delivered. However, one poorly received movie adaptation later and Cell faded into obscurity. Read on to see why Cell is one of Stephen King’s most underrated and mistreated works.

The Concept is Fascinating and Unique

The cast standing by a field of sleeping phone zombies
This old guy is all about burning phone zombies for funsies. (image credit: Lionsgate)

Cell exists in a weird time period. Phones did not have the vast amount of capabilities found in modern smartphones. While we do mourn our Nokia bricks dearly, technology has come a long way. Yet, Cell still holds up in its concept. A call rings across every cell phone in America, zombifying everyone who decides to pick up. Our protagonist, Clay, needs to get back to his family and ensure their safety. Along the way, he meets a glorified cult leader in a hoodie, flocks of singing zombies, and other survivors. 

The zombification process being blasted from a device we all use daily is a terrifying concept. The book succeeds in fearmongering the usage of cell phones and questioning our technological advances. King expertly continues his trend of worldbuilding and character development in Cell, making this a standout in his collection. However, the issue came with the movie.

Cell, the Movie, Phoned it In

John Cusack alongside Isabelle Fuhrman in Cell
John Cusack’s stylish leather gloves could not save this movie. (image credit: Lionsgate)

The book got good reviews. The 2016 film, which featured Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack, did not. In fact, saying this is an understatement. Tod Williams’ take on King’s novel currently holds a 11% critical rating and a 17% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film’s acting was criticized, as was its rushed explanations of the plot. Bloody Disgusting called it “forgettable.” Bob Grimm labeled it “one of the worst adaptations ever of a King story.” In short, most people did not care for it.

The Legacy of Cell

Original Cell book cover
The book is honestly amazing. (image credit: Simon and Schuster)

King’s 2006 novel had something called depth. It had character development and touching moments. The parallels of cell phone usage and zombification were fleshed out and actually held an entertaining story. To further this, the antagonist got more than 2 minutes of focus in the book. This ringleader known as “President of the Internet” scared readers with cunning and deeper manipulation techniques than the punk emo kid in the film. The book, all around, contained deeper substance the movie couldn’t capture.

Cell deserves better. The film adaptation did not live up to the original by any means. However, that isn’t to say it can’t work on screen. King has had past successes in miniseries and tv shows such as his upcoming adaptation of The Stand and his past It miniseries. King’s work deserves longer run times and more content to flesh out his stories, and Cell could garner a revival through a tv series or a limited series. Only time will tell if Cell will get the onscreen showing it deserves.

By John Castro

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