One of the better independent horror films of recent years is/was The Signal, a shoestring-budgeted, three-act breathe of fresh air shot entirely in Atlanta by a trio of first-time filmmakers. The premise, a transmission sent through all electronic devices (television sets, cell phones, etc.) that causes all those in its mental captivity to go apeshit crazy, killing at will. The first section is a taut, explosive outbreak of homicide, the middle portion all black humor and Grand Guignol weirdness, and the third act heavier on drama and emotion.
The first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe how innovative and fearless the film was, especially considering the lack of finances behind it. But then I got around to reading Stephen King‘s beloved epic novel Cell (2006), and I realized that The Signal‘s concept isn’t all that creative. Not saying that the film’s makers directly jacked King; just that, the similarities, at least to Cell‘s first half, are pretty uncanny (the infection in Cell, in fact, is called “The Pulse”). And since I love The Signal, it made sense that I enjoyed Cell as much as I did, even though it wasn’t as smooth a read as other books I breezed through at the time (The Road, Shutter Island, The Lost). Overlong by a good 100 pages, Cell could’ve benefitted from downsizing, streamlining the book’s latter events into something more concise, less dragging. Without spoiling things, let’s just say that Cell goes into wildly-unexpected places as the pages turn, leaving The Signal-comparison-highway and turning left into a traditional good-versus-evil battle of wits.
A couple years back, Eli Roth (fella behind the Hostel films) was attached to direct a Cell film adaptation, but the project gestated due to creative differences, and Roth eventually backed off. King’s book is rather cinematic, as is all of his work, really, so the prospect of a Cell on screen was exciting, so today’s news that Cell is being revived as an in-development, four-hour TV mini-series is cause for applause. The screenwriter involved, John Harrison, worked with King on the good-stuff anthology films Creepshow and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, so this mini-series is already on the right track.
This is news that I couldn’t sprinkle with my own two sense/cents, regardless of how inconsequential my opinion(s) may be. Oh well, screw it, right? This should be fun. After the jump, allow me to offer my thoughts on Cell casting. Obviously premature, but fun nonetheless. Of course, this won’t mean diddy-dick to those who haven’t read the book. But, again….screw it, right?: [Casting choices for the Cell mini-series, after the jump]
Theater of Mine’s “Casting Call: Stephen King’s Cell, the mini-series”…..
Clayton Riddell: Clayton is the novel’s main character, a struggling illustrator from Maine who’s just signed a promising deal to draw the pics for a new graphic novel. Literally moments after the deal is signed, Clayton is ready to leave Boston and head home to his wife and son, when “The Pulse” goes off and he starts seeing people chomping holes in others and all-out destruction. Clayton is a cool, level-headed guy when under pressure; he’s a character that’ll require a leading man who’s not too “butch,” but has enough charisma and scenery-command to pull off the reluctant hero. I’m all for Nathan Fillion (Serenity, Slither) here—the guy is the ultimate “lovable jock,” and he has the necessary comedic chops and sympathetic-draw to give Clayton a real root-ability.
Tom McCourt: While trying to survive the initial outburst in Boston, Clay befriends Tom, a jovial, friendly, and gay businessman with a knack for comedic relief and unflinching loyalty. It’s a role custom-shaped for a talented character actor, the kind of role-player that doesn’t dominate a project but scores with every scene he’s in. Something tells me that Roger Bart (Desperate Housewives, Hostel 2, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) would fit quite right.
Alice Maxwell: The second travel companion that Clay meets in impromptu-Hell-on-Earth Boston, Alice is a teenage girl who we first see attacking her suddenly-rabid mother after mom tries to terminate her baby. At first, Alice is the tired old “scared girl in distress” character, but she gradually earns cool points for soldier-ing up and handling her own. She becomes a sort of kid sister/daughter for Clay and Tom, and her storyline brings with it some of the book’s strongest emotion. It’s a pretty weighty role, one that’ll demand a young actress with real gifts. Somebody like Olivia Thirlby. Okay, so I’ll admit, I’ve been an Olivia Thirlby (Juno, The Wackness, Snow Angels) fan for inexplicable reasons for some time now, so this pick is really just me throwing myself a bone. But she’s definitely talented, and under-used. And I have no doubt that she’d do on-page Alice justice.
Charles Ardai: Clay, Tom and Alice, after leaving Boston, take a safety-breather in a New Hampshire prep school, where the meet two new characters—-Charles Ardai, the school’s elderly lone-surviving-teacher, and young Jordan, the only living student. It’s through Ardai that we, along with our protagonist trio, learn all about the infected people’s telekinetic powers and bizarre sleeping habits, which I won’t reveal here. A frail yet insightful man, Ardai’s actor needs to give off that scholarly vibe, as well as sense of audience-given attachment in one key scene. My call—-John Hurt, who most know from the Harry Potter flicks as “Mr. Ollivander,” and who’s a a great player to have in any picture.
Jordan: The aforementioned prep school student, he’s a little guy who becomes a key character once the action leaves the New Hampshire prepatory. Somewhat precocious, but mostly brave and slightly Doogie Howser in intellect. Ever since 2007’s impressive, lo-fi and kinda Hitchock-ish Joshua, I’ve been curious to see what would become of young Jacob Kogan, who totally owned Joshua as the titular sociopath-in-training kiddie. Other than a small role in the recent smash Star Trek (as a young Spock), he’s been a bit too invisible; the fact that he’s actually 14 years old, despite such a young-looking face, qualifies him as a perfect Jordan around here.
“The Raggedy Man”: To fully explain who “The Raggedy Man” is would be to give away Cell‘s entire endgame, so I’ll leave it at this—-he’s the alpha crazy, the head infected that becomes the story’s central villain. He’s described as a grungy-looking Black guy wearing a Harvard hoodie, and he appears in the dreams of those not infected. From the bits and pieces of The Wire that I’ve seen (I know, I’m fucking terrible for admitting that I’m still slacking on my Wire game), and the promo stills from the upcoming film version of The Road that feature dude looking quite insane, I’m going with Michael K. Williams as “The Raggedy Man.”