Released just in time for Halloween, Cell 213 is a supernatural horror that sees ghosts haunting the hallways of a nightmarish prison. Directed by Stephen Kay (Boogeyman), the film overall is not much higher in quality than that of a midday movie, either in looks or plot, and perhaps if even one of these elements had been up to scratch it would have made for an entertaining watch at least, but as is, it fails to deliver real scares or an interesting story.
Michael Grey (Eric Balfour) is a hotshot lawyer known to represent those accused of the worst crimes, and normally gets them exonerated too. Yet, when one of his clients brutally kills himself during an interview, the blame is pinned on Michael and he soon finds himself sentenced to the very same prison. Now under the watch of the strange warden (Bruce Greenwood) and a sadistic guard (Michael Rooker), Michael is forced to face justice for his own wrong doings and his darkest nightmares, all while locked away in the mysterious Cell 213.
The real struggle of the film is that the only thing at stake from beginning to end is Michael’s soul, but there isn’t really much to his character to care about other than knowing he’s a lawyer trapped in prison and, as a result, it’s hard to become invested in the story when there’s nothing to really lose. From the beginning, the narrative spends little time in building the world or characters beyond their first impressions, and instead jumps between plot points without out much care for reason. The film seems to want to do many things, from prison politics to hauntings by The Grudge style ghosts, but the most underdeveloped is the God versus Satan storyline, which is used as a broad justification for everything.
What the film does have going for it though, is the commitment of some fairly great actors, with astonishingly none of them phoning in their performances. Balfour (Haven) gives his all as Michael falls deeper and deeper into the pits of his own insanity, but is ultimately let down by a story that doesn’t deliver. Similarly, Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy) brings such intensity to his guard, Ray Clement, but the last act gives him a fairly convenient ending that makes the character not much more than a plot device. Lastly, Greenwood (Mad Men) is the most under-utilised on the list, filling the role of the enigmatic authority figure with possibly good or evil intentions, but he’s given little to do of lasting impact.
The only actor who seems to actively work through the story is Deborah Valente (Animals 2), who portrays an investigator from the State Corrections Services office, that arrives to look into accusations of excessive force in the prison. She becomes overly interested in Michael, who seems to be following the same patterns of past inmates who committed suicides, and becomes the only one to believe that there is more to his incarceration than meets the eye.
For those looking to fill their Halloween quota this film might certainly do the trick, but anyone else may find that the film has little to offer, even if intended to be nothing more than background noise.