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Cell Count (Todd E. Freeman, 2012)


The cure may be worse than what ails the cast of Cell Count, a low-budget body horror thriller. Despite its small scale and its deliberate pacing, the film successfully mines much the same territory that early Cronenberg films covered. The scenario here involves an unnamed terminal disease that has no cure. A desperate husband, hoping to save his dying wife, agrees to undergo an experimental treatment in a closed medical facility, the nature of which is left unclear. Before long, we discover that the so-called cure might only be a quicker route to death.


Cell Count is a film that understands its genre and scales itself accordingly. It is certainly gory enough to satisfy most horror fans. Over the course of the patientsí extended stay, they have to witness an exploding dog, a particularly pestilent leg wound and, in what is surely the filmís grotesque highlight, a coughed up lung that becomes a mask, of sorts. Unfortunately, because director Todd E. Freeman wants to do a lot with a little, he leaves too much to our imaginations. There is a general vagueness here that is never resolved due to what must have been budgetary concerns. The nature of the disease, the extent to which it has ravaged the general populace and the state of the world outside of the research facility are all left unclear. As it becomes obvious that these answers wonít be forthcoming, the film grows less intriguing and less unsettling as it goes on, climaxing with a cliffhanger ending that is likely to leave most of the audience feeling unsatisfied.


Still, Cell Count works to a large extent and is made with a reasonable degree of skill. Freeman is able to control the level of tension throughout the majority of the film, which is impressive given that it largely takes place in one location. Itís to the directorís credit that the most effective passages here involve the characters exploring the eerily quiet and underpopulated facility. With only fluorescent lights and sterile furnishings the director manages to create genuine atmosphere. The special makeup effects are solid. Freeman is perhaps less successful in other regards, though. The performances are inconsistent, with Christopher Toyne chewing the scenery as the mad doctor running the experiment while others among the small cast barely register at all. The script moves rather predictably from one revelation to the next, without ever offering much reason to care about the bulk of the characters. Shortcomings such as these keep Cell Count from striking more deeply, but for those who love the genre, it will likely prove worthwhile.



Jeremy Heilman