That Other Time I Threw a Book Across the Room…or Cell by Stephen King: A Review

One time, I threw a book across the room. 

This is a different book. I also threw it.

I encountered Stephen King’s Cell while rifling through my grandmother’s weird and seemingly arbitrary collection of books, an eclectic mixture of horror novels and Bibles.

It seemed like it would be an okay read. The tagline proclaimed : “There is a reason cell rhymes with hell.”

I should have known better.

Flip phone! (image from

The premise is interesting: At a specific moment in time, a signal sends all people who are on their cell phones into a frothing, murderous frenzy. Think: The Happening meets 28 Days Later. 

But the book quickly turns insufferable. Insufferable characters who all speak in the same voice and a confounding plot involving flocks. Flocks of human zombies. I get it. King was trying to inject a new life, a twist in the zombie literature (although let’s use the term “zombie” very loosely here). The film genre had been granted a revitalization by movies such as the remake of Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later., and Shaun of the Dead A little comic book series called The Walking Dead would reach issue #30 in 2006 when Cell was also published.

2006 was a good time to get into zombies. In the following few years, all manner of zombies would lurch out of the woodwork, from the revisionist Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to the explosive popularity of AMC’s The Walking Dead. 

Let’s go ahead and skip the part where we argue over whether or not the mind-altered former humans in this book are technically zombies or not. “Zombies” are so ubiquitous now that the word has essentially lost its meaning.

It’s been several years since I read Cell. Here are the things I remember about it:

  1. The opening scene was cool.
  2. Weird, telepathic hive mind.
  3. I hated it.

So when I saw that they had finally made a movie adaptation, a fate all Stephen King novels must endure, and it was a mere $6.99 to rent HD on Amazon Prime, you bet I was on board!

Heck, I thought, there’s no way the movie could be worse than the book.

(Movie: Challenge accepted!)

The film stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. They spend the film looking tired and ready to collect a paycheck. The “zombie” extras flail around like they just graduated from a method acting class where their primary exercise was to imitate a fish flopping around on a pier while learning it just won the Publishers Clearing house sweepstakes.

The pacing of the movie makes no sense, as though it had been whittled down from 1400 hours of footage. Every time I looked away and looked back, I had completely lost the thread. The apocalypse goes from 0-60 in ten minutes’ time.

Now let’s talk about technology. Cell phones have evolved a bit in the last ten years. The sight of literally every single person in an airport talking on their cell phone strains credibility. In my experience, the majority of people prefer a quick text over the stress of actually talking to another human being. But the film makes a point to assault the viewer with jump cuts of distracted people rushing down the tarmac with phones, earpieces, and wires growing out of their heads. And when John Cusack’s phone runs out of “juice” (you know, like the kids say), he uses a payphone for crying out loud. I mean, what is that? The closest the film hews to reality is the fact that every outlet in the entire airport is being used to charge a phone.

Unlike the book, I didn’t finish the movie. There is a reason cell rhymes with hell. A special kind of hell, reserved for readers who pick up rando books at their grandmother’s house.

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