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Cellphone (2023) Review

As Cellphone opens, Brian (Isaac Versaw, Eleutheromania) wanders through a house, seemingly looking for something or following a trail. The odd thing is he’s not looking at whatever it is directly, he’s using his phone’s camera as some kind of lens. He ends up in the bedroom where Jeanie (Katherine Barber, Tangled, Bruh) is sleeping. The next we see of him, he has apparently hung himself.

Wynne (Whitney Rose Pynn, 21 Days, Death Camp) is trying to get past the guilt she feels over the death of her fiancé Liam (Jared Noble, Precognito, Guilt) in a car accident that happened while she was driving. Hoping a change of scenery will help, she moves into an old house, formerly an inn owned by Bob (Malcolm McDowell, Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar, A Clockwork Orange) who we don’t see, but he does call Wynne on the phone occasionally.

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The first feature for both director Luke Sommer and his wife Rachel who wrote it, Cellphone is expanded from a short they made in 2012, and which also featured Justin Malik Jackson (Romeo & Juliet: Louisville 2020, Silent Echo) as the strange and extremely talkative Chris whom Wynne finds messing with the old truck in the barn.

The first half hour of Cellphone is somewhat cryptic and difficult to follow, as it constantly shifts around from what is happening to dreamland nightmares with no warning. It’s also not clear if Wynne is hallucinating Liam’s presence or if she’s actually talking to his ghost. But, as you can guess from the title, it’s Wynne’s phone that’s the issue. She gets calls with sounds associated with Liam’s death, and it spontaneously shows her video that shows her dead or other unpleasant scenes. This only becomes worse when she finds a second phone, dirty but seemingly undamaged, in the fireplace ashes.

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It feels like a very slow burning haunted house film, with an update to allow for modern technology. And it does have some creepy moments as Wynne and the viewer try to figure out just what is going on. But there’s also a rather large problem, there are only two characters on screen most of the time, and one of them is incredibly annoying as he rambles on, jumping from topic to topic and rarely making any sense.

It’s bad enough when Chris’ presence has something to do with the plot, such as where he insists she drive despite her protests she’s still not ready. But an extended scene where he teaches Wynne to fire a musket, yes a musket, is excruciating to sit through. Cellphone would have been much better if his character had been toned down a bit, or even without him and played as a one person show.

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When Cellphone concentrates on its horror elements, it does manage some effective moments. The scenes where the phone shows Wynne one thing while we see what’s actually going on is unnerving, and thankfully not overused. And there are some effective scenes in the dark old house. But the film’s plot wanders off all too often to scenes of Wynne and Liam’s ghost, and often feels more like a film about getting over sadness and loss than a horror film. It doesn’t help that even by the end of the film, we have no idea just what the entity behind it all was or how it was able to do what it did.

Overall, it feels like when the Sommers decided to expand Cellphone to feature length, they didn’t have quite enough material for the main plot and ended up adding scenes that diluted and confused the story they wanted to tell. The result is a film that’s sporadically effective, but never seems to know what it wants to be long enough to pull itself together.

Cellphone is available on VOD and Digital Platforms via Gravitas Ventures.

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