Cell 211 is a Spanish thriller about a young man in an impossible situation. Though unpredictable, it’s also a movie that makes sense. Nothing happens without a reason, decisions flow from prior decisions, and characters behave consistently with their backgrounds and circumstances. It’s a tense film, one that kept me engaged and trying to outthink it throughout its running time. I enjoyed the heck out of it.
Here’s the story: Juan is a young man with a family who is on a tour of a local prison prior to his first day of work there as a guard. Unexpectedly, he finds himself in the middle of a riot and passes himself off as a new inmate, one assigned to Cell 211. What follows is an hour and a half of Juan trying to survive, prison authorities trying to find a way to both get him out and end the riot, and the prisoners’ leader weighing how much he can trust the new guy while negotiating an improvement in prison conditions.
The leader is a vicious killer, but he’s smart and adaptable. Thus, the tension: how long can Juan keep him fooled? How far is he willing to go to maintain his act? What’s going to happen next?
Tension mounts without straining our credulity and without resorting to deux ex machinas. The film has a careful eye for group dynamics on both sides of the bars. By the end, we’re no longer entirely sure what anyone stands for, and the lines between good and bad have been blurred without resort to treacle or silliness. And we bite our nails, then bite some more. Cell 211 isn’t going to change your life. It isn’t going to move you in the manner of a Kinyarwanda. But it will grip you and entertain you and leave you shaken. I'll take that any time.