Dir. Luke Sommer (2023)
After the death of her husband, Whitney starts seeing disturbing images from her future on her cellphone.
There's a weird blend between technohorror, the reliance on technological innovation as a fear-causing mechanism, and supernatural technohorror, which is more of a standard supernatural film that utilizes current technology. The former exploits the fear of the future, the fear that these new technologies may have nefarious endgames, while the latter is more of a ghost story that is integrated into modern society in a way that is more relatable to its audience. Instead of crafting a story built largely on gothic architecture, candlelit chandeliers, and cobwebby old houses, the supernatural technohorror film incorporates the tales of ghouls and ghosts into a normal middle-class existence with modern electricity and comfortable surroundings. The upcoming Cellphone is one such a tale, focusing around a woman who begins seeing terrible things through her cellphone that threaten her with a terrifying future.
Wynne (Whitney Rose Pynn, Aquarius) is a woman who has recently lost her husband to suicide. She is struggling with PTSD, haunted by memories of her past as she tries to build for herself a future that is worth living on her own. She is taking care of a house owned by the mysterious Bob (Malcolm McDowell, lots of stuff) when she begins seeing strange pictures and videos in her cellphone, visions filled with death and destruction that could potentially await her. She meets handyman and general nice-guy/weirdo Chris (Justin Malik Jackson), who becomes an ally in her quest to understand why she's seeing what she's seeing and try to survive whatever destiny the cellphone is trying to warn her about. Will she be able to avoid her fate? Is any of this real, or is it just the creepy manifestation of her widow's PTSD?
Supernatural films are, almost by their very nature, slow burns, and Cellphone is no different. As Wynne tries to make sense of her situation, she is exploring a house with a history and some baggage of its own, blending the more modern horror story with a haunted house vibe that works surprisingly well. Director Luke Sommer and screenwriter Rachel Sommer do a pretty good job of creating a watchable movie that never feels like it drags even when its taking its time. The cinematography is fantastic, maintaining an indie vibe for the flick while looking generally pretty throughout. Wynne and Chris' budding friendship is a delight to watch, a true depiction of how friendship can help someone through even the greatest tragedies.
Pynn is excellent in the starring role, and Jackson is a fantastic foil to her deeply damaged character. The dynamic between their two characters is impressive, and while the haunting message of the film is worthwhile, the character development between Wynne and Chris would have been enough for a movie by itself. Cellphone is decidedly indie horror, and its insistence that "fear lives in the future, but you live in the present" is a lesson that could be very useful to its audience in their own lives. The film feels like it toys with the edge of being a lot deeper than expected, and while the script does occasionally take longer to get where its going than necessary, the high drama within works quite well. In fact, the movie feels like its bordering on not being horror at all, and it's the occasional presence of the prophetic phone camera that pushes it just over the edge. It's a credit to the writer and performers that the movie feels as much like a melodrama as it does horror.
All that said, there is some horror here. The camera is generally creepy, and living in the post-tragedy world its main character resides in is fairly scary by itself. Playing with the concept of fate and self-deception is not new territory, but Cellphone does enough with hits limited scope to feel fresh nonetheless. It's a good film that occasionally feels like it could be great, though it never is able to surpass its indie roots to stake that claim. The Sommer's are very talented, however, and their brand of horror feels very Absentia-era Flanagan with its focus on love, loss, and consequence. It never does fully dip its toes into the potential horror it creates, however, and for that reason, it feels like it falls short of its potential as a horror movie despite its well-crafted design. I'm excited to see what's next for the duo, however, because it's a good flick regardless and could well be indicative of two promising careers to come.
Who this movie is for: Slow burn horror fans, Supernatural drama aficionados, Phone addicts
Bottom line: Cellphone never fully crosses the threshold into horror, but it's damn good drama. The performances are excellent, it's an exceptionally well-crafted film, and while it's not one that will please people looking for a straight-up scary movie, it accomplishes it's goals surprisingly well. It's decent indie horror, and I'm expecting to see a lot more in writer and director Rachel and Luke Sommer's future. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you get the chance.