Comparison: 'Cell' vs. 'Zombieland'

by Ben Rider 5 months ago in movie review

A look at two unconventional zombie films loaded with survival, sons, and potential drinking games!

Comparison: 'Cell' vs. 'Zombieland'

Unconventional genre

Zombieland is a comedy. It sort of misses the point of the original zombie film genre (our world and civilisation could crumble with a bite or two). But it's a whole-lot of friggin' fun (dah—there's a Bill Murry cameo!), and it does touch on consumerism as a pattern of bad behaviour... so, yeah—in a roundabout way—there's something political or semi-philosophical in this comical rendering of the original chomp film genre.

Cell... oh boy... is, well, a zombie film that has basically reshaped the concept to be about a bad phone signal that sends its victims into some sort of variety of three settings: killing machine mode, upgrade/sleep, and bird-flock walking modes. None of these three behaviours really keep the film afloat in its core genre, despite the whole concept being constantly discussed by the film's key characters. One could argue that there's a single extended momentary 'zombie' film sequence, where chaos ensues—the opening airport scenes. It sees Clay Riddell (John Cusack) run to escape the 'killer machine mode' zombies, and it is very zombie genre like. Just by the way, this is also the only piece of tension you'll have for the whole runtime of this film—just thought you should know that. The rest of the film is just macabre at best.


Surviving the viewing of a zombie film is often as challenging as the character's actually surviving the plotline. Well, at least in terms of the traditional horror goreshow.

Zombieland does a sort-of-wonderful job here. It opens with a fantastically humorous voiceover detailing the much-needed survival tips Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has gathered during his time in the after-bite, and it also really tends to build the plotline around the idea of the 'gang' moving from one place to the next, just trying to get by. So, very survivable.

On the flip-phone side, there's Cell. And oh boy does anyone actually know what the hell is going on, or even care? I sort of do. I read the book—and I know that Stephen King did his usual play-by-play in that fantastic page-turner of a thrill ride. But, for some unknown reason, this adaptation fails to do much more than outline that mobile phones are bad and that the zombies are somehow connected by an unknown signal and can operate as one. Unexplained nightmares haunt our lead personas, and there's some vague sense of premonitions. But I really fear that deleted scenes ruined this whole picture's common sense and no one knows anything... and frankly, it's about as exciting as a sales call thanks to it.

So, yeah—Zombieland is boss when it comes to survival.

The gang in 'Cell'.


Cell was always about Clay trying to get to his son Johnny. Did Johnny survive? Eh, that's the ending. I won't tell you that. But yeah, the film was always about Clay trying to get to his son, and the gang that surround him as he travels on and on... Oddly enough, though the dialogue between them is sparse and so thin, it almost feels false—I did find the casting of John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson sort of great. The chemistry, no matter how little of it made it on to the screen, is actually there. And there's a real sense (at least to me) of the idea that Tom McCourt (Jackson) is wanting to see his friend's family reunited, no matter how unlikely. So the love for Clay's son and that family is there and is fairly clear to me as a viewer.

And then there's Zombieland. It really pulls the heartstrings with this one. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) really delves as far as one can with the whole missing son motif. It's heartbreaking and is potentially the only other emotional tone the film has to offer shy of its comedic/romantic combo (there is a love interest couple in this zombie world). So, one has to give credit to the writers (Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) and director (Ruben Fleischer) for providing this fleshy father-son part to Zombieland. It adds depth to the film, the sort that really elevates it above the average Zomcom films... though one fears what this element might look like ten years later with the upcoming sequel?!

Drinking Games

I'm not much of a drinker. But I am told there is a fun drinking game for Zombieland that involves the word Twinkie and the rules of survival (when they are said, when they are broken). So, tick.

Cell is an easy one—drink whenever something happens that doesn't make sense or when you just get bored. And let's be honest—by the time you get drunk doing this routine, it won't make much difference to the viewing experience of this film. So, as a sober viewer throwing some shade—I have to touch on these early random points of this film now: how does Alice Waxman (Isabelle Fuhrman), in her shocked state after killing a few people, realise that Clay and Tom are hiding in Clay's apartment? How do they even get there after running out of the airport? What the hell is going on with this film's general sense of direction and pacing? It is all over the place. God help us. God help Clay in that newly written ending that was not in the book!

The 'Zombieland' team.


I'd like to recommend Cell to fans of the book, but I can't. It will just irritate them. And if you are a general Stephen King fan—well, the same remark applies. In truth, the only person I'd recommend Cell to are what I'd describe as 'entry level' horror viewers. People who will come in with little experience or expectation of the genre. Mega fans might enjoy Cusack here—he is actually delivering, despite what's going on around him.

So... needless to say Zombieland is the recommendation here. It's a decent film. And it hasn't aged all that much (despite hitting ten years of age this year). Oh, and there's a sequel coming!

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Ben Rider

Indie filmmaker based in London. Judges for and is the Festival Director at The Monkey Bread Tree Film Awards.

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