Horror review: Cell 213

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, JUNE 8, 2011

By Steve Newton

There’s a scene near the beginning of Cell 213 where one of the inmates at the dilapidated South River State Penitentiary is performing his duties as an embalmer—yes, the murderers here moonlight as undertakers—and making small talk with a guard. While draining the blood from a corpse, the prisoner claims that if you gathered all the embalming fluid used in America in one year you could fill 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools with it.

I have no idea whether or not that statement is true—and have no intention of finding out—but I do know that this bit of trivia provides one of the few thought-provoking moments in Boogeyman director Stephen Kay’s stylishly tedious supernatural prison flick.

Eric Balfour stars as cocky defense attorney Michael Grey, who we discover early on is a legal weasel of the lowest order. When he’s not dragging a foxy coworker into the men’s room for a midday rut while chatting on the phone with his wife, Grey is sheepishly paying off enforcers for eliminating witnesses.

But just as he’s about to get a brutal child-slayer out of jail, the wheels of justice back up over his hotshot ass and Grey winds up in the prison himself, at the mercy of a sadistic guard (Michael Rooker) and the institution’s loony warden (Bruce Greenwood). He’s tossed into the heavily haunted Cell 213, which sounds a bit scarier than Cell 123.

The Ontario-shot film’s production crew does a bang-up job of creating a grimy, soul-sucking atmosphere, but the hand-held camera and heavy use of sepia-toned filters and steely-blue light grow tiresome. The film’s overall quality rarely rises above decent direct-to-video product, and its underlying theme—that the prison is some sort of purgatorial testing ground for doomed offenders, and the wacky warden is a judge of where their souls will land—is a tad ambitious, all things considered.

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