Jennifer Lopez’s Best Movie Is Streaming For Free

Jennifer Lopez's serial killer virtual reality film The Cell is streaming for free on Hoopla.

By Nathan Kamal | Updated

Jennifer Lopez had appeared in a number of films prior to her breakout role as doomed Tejano star Selena Quintanilla Pérez in 1997’s Selena, including the Wesley Snipes-Woody Harrelson action film Money Train and the bizarre Robin Williams comedy Jack. But while she became a star in a dramatic biopic and would find her lifelong niche in romantic comedies a few years later, Jennifer Lopez starred in her single best, weirdest film between the two: 2000’s The Cell, which is streaming for free via the Hoopla service. 

The Cell stars Jennifer Lopez as Dr. Catherine Deane, a child psychologist conducting virtual reality experiments that involve futuristic bodysuits and vivid dreamscapes within the minds of coma patients. However, Jennifer Lopez and her team (Dylan Baker and Marianne Jean-Baptiste) are enlisted by FBI Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) to use their technology to investigate the mind of a serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio), who fell into a coma with a victim still imprisoned in a glass cell. Unfortunately, the killer’s modus operandi involves drowning his victims in bleach via a timer, so the clock is still ticking. 

Jennifer Lopez is recruited against her better judgment to enter Vincent D’Onofrio’s mind to try to find any information as to where his latest victim (Tara Subkoff) is, despite knowing that within the mindscape, one can lose sense of what is real and be trapped in a mental prison or a “cell,” if you will. On paper, The Cell is a fairly standard representative of the ever-popular serial killer genre; it combines the body horror and vague religious allusions of Se7en with Silence of the Lambs’ conceit of plumbing the mind of a killer to rescue a trapped woman. In that, it is fairly standard stuff.

jennifer lopez

Except that the eerie power of The Cell is not in the plot. This particular Jennifer Lopez thriller is breathtakingly visual, full of vividly dream-like,  often wordless sequences, as disturbing as they are beautiful. Director Tarsem Singh (in his directorial debut after building a reputation in music videos and commercials) pulls imagery from classical architecture, BDSM, Catholocism, and contemporary artists like Damien Hirst, Francis Bacon, and Alien’s H.R. Giger. While the “real” world in which Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn are attempting to save a woman’s life is flat and washed out, the dream world inside Vincent D’Onofrio is brilliant and terrible in equal measure.

Once Jennifer Lopez enters the mind of the comatose serial killer, the movie takes the first of several turns. Lopez encounters the first of several dream avatars of the schizophrenic Vincent D’Onofrio in the form of a small boy (Jake Thomas) in an unsettling sequence in which a horse is vivisected between falling walls of glass. She follows the child through his memories of horrible abuse by his father and is then discovered by a demonic representation of the killer, who so thoroughly dominates the mental landscape that he essentially creates a new reality in his mind. 

Eventually, Jennifer Lopez becomes swept away in the torment of Vincent D’Onfrio’s psyche, requiring Vince Vaughn to come in and rescue her. He himself is then captured and tortured, then and freed by Jennifer Lopez when she follows her own traumatic memory back to reality. But where The Cell really makes itself distinctive from most serial killer thrillers is how it begins to treat the killer himself. 

Unlike Silence of the Lambs, in which Jodie Foster plays an FBI agent, or Se7en, in which Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are police detectives, Jennifer Lopez is a doctor. Once she is within Vincent D’Onofrio’s mind, she comes to understand and sympathize with what has transformed the child she sees in his mind into the demon that follows him everywhere. Neither the movie nor Jennifer Lopez’s character forgives or excuses the monster he has become, but unlike most films of its type, it understands that he is an utterly tormented human who craves release from his own prison of pain. 

The next year after The Cell, Jennifer Lopez starred in The Wedding Planner with Matthew McConaughey, then Maid in Manhattan with Ralph Fiennes the year after that. While she has appeared in many kinds of films since then, Jennifer Lopez has never appeared in as strange or experimental a movie since then. However, that might be what makes this the best thing she has done in cinema.