From the film's very first shot, which resembles an impressionistic painting, The Cell asserts it's visual power. The opening image, a wash of yellow, is offset by a shimmering dark splodge that fuses into a vision of Jennifer Lopez on a black horse; a solitary figure in white riding along the perimeter of a mountainous sand dune. Dismounting, Ms Lopez ascends the dune on foot, leaving behind her a trail of footsteps that arch to the summit in a dotted line.
Ironically, the scene turns out to be a mental 'encounter' between a therapist and her comatose patient - a young boy suffering from a rare neurological disorder. Yet with the aid of cutting-edge science, Catherine Deane (Lopez) can somehow 'enter' the subconscious of her subject and reach the innermost portals of his mind.
The tension steps up a notch when a deranged serial killer (D'Onofrio) enters a similarly comatose state, and Catherine is called upon by FBI agent Peter Novack (Vaughn) to help locate the killer's latest victim - a young woman locked away in a secret, booby-trapped chamber (the 'cell' of the title). If Catherine can enter the psychopath's twisted mindscape, then maybe she can find a clue as to the whereabouts of the missing girl.
Recalling elements of Coma, Dreamscape, The Lawnmower Man and Seen, The Cell is a highly stylized thriller that employs simplistic psychology to justify its warped agenda.
The director, Tarsem Singh, displays an extraordinary imagination that exploits both theatrical and computerized effects. Whilst audiences may marvel at his visual invention, it is the depraved humiliation of helpless women that sticks uncomfortably in the memory.
For instance, in one scene the killer lifts a naked female corpse from a bath of bleach and lays her on a slab. Suspending himself directly above her via fourteen hooks pierced through his back and legs, he watches a re-run of her murder by drowning as he undergoes a sexual epiphany.
And if that gives you the shivers, be warned - there is worse still to come when Catherine unlocks the demons in his mind.
Boasting some wonderful cinematography, rich costumes, trippy sets and a fine score by Howard Shore that incorporates a great deal of Moroccan music, The Cell is an intense experience indeed. Inspired, depraved, unforgettable cinema.