Cell is a 2017 short film about a prisoner of war who wakes up in a Nazi prison cell to discover he’s the unwitting test subject in a cruel psychological experiment where all is not as it seems.
You would think that by now the Nazis have all been tapped out as villains in movies, they the go-to bad guys in a seemingly uncountable number of titles that see them run the gambit from genuinely authentic portrayals to fantastical zombie nightmares and everything in-between. Perhaps that is why, at face value, Paul Holbrook‘s new short film Cell might not seem all that innovative. However, nothing could be further from the truth, as there are, even in a film that runs just under ten minutes, plenty of well-earned surprises.
It begins with a beaten down man (Laurence Saunders) being dragged along a corridor by Nazi uniformed men and tossed in a cell. There, he is tormented by a penetrating noise coming from the ceiling, one that eventually dissipates, leaving him to realize, he is not alone. With him, tucked in the shadows, is a frightened woman (Livvie May), nearly nude, huddled in fear. She emerges from the dark, and they find they are subjects of what seems a twisted experiment, both branded with numbers on their feet. Not long after, a disembodied voice, menacing and authoritative, offers them some disturbing rules, just as a guard opens the door and leaves behind a key and a pistol. What the man discovers next is that he is part of something far more sinister and worse, nothing is as it appears.
As with most short films of this nature, there is little that can be said without spoiling the twist, one that comes with a pretty solid punch, even if you are surely aware from the start that things aren’t exactly on the up and up. Taking a few leads from a couple of other horror films where an outside voice leads what amounts to a puppet show of horror, what happens with Cell still feels well-earned, tripping up expectations about the characters and their place in the story, including the Nazis themselves. That was a nice twist, one that led me in one direction before veering off and derailing what I thought was surely going on.
While there is a familiarity to the setting and how it unravels, there is still plenty of intrigue in just who is who, with the woman particularly, and purposefully, positioned to raise questions. Holbrook, who co-wrote the story, keeps the dialogue trim and to the point, most of it expositioning, as it were, what is clearly happening on screen. Horror fans will savor the setup as well, and while the film is only momentarily gory, it has terrific atmosphere. This is very good looking and well-directed, easily Holbrook’s greater achievement. The compact format gives the movie a kind of opening chapter feel, like the prologue to a much bigger project, as if at the end, you expect the story to actually begin. That of course makes this all so much more effective, and a post credit scene hints that indeed, there is more to learn. A smart and chilling little thriller, Cell is another solid entry from Holbrook, who continues to prove he’s a filmmaker with great promise.
Movie description: Cell is a 2017 short film about a prisoner of war who wakes up in a Nazi prison cell to discover he's the unwitting test subject in a cruel psychological experiment where all is not as it seems.
Director(s): Paul Holbrook
Actor(s): Laurence Saunders, Livvie May, John Lomas
Genre: Short, Thriller