March 27, 2016

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

I remember the night the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane hit theaters, it was with 13 Hours (a movie I did not see). The only reason I knew was that posts started popping up talking about a Cloverfield sequel. Needless to say, I was excited. How did they make this without anyone knowing? Was it a direct sequel? What is the connection? So many questions based on the fact that a trailer just appeared. I am a big of Cloverfield, so this jumped up my anticipation list. Of course, since then many facts about it have been revealed, but to be honest, most of that was secondary to how good the movie is. Seriously, when it comes down to it, it is always about the movie.

Among the things learned was that the movie was hardly made in some super secret bubble. It was produced under different working titles, I have seen Valencia and The Cellar. Also, it has been said that this is not in the same universe as the original film, making this potentially the start of an anthology type of series with the films linked by theme or something to that effect. Of course, that also points to the title as being nothing more than a marketing ploy to get people to pay attention to the release. Hey, if it works, go for it. Having seen the film, I could see how it may not have been a big box office draw without the gimmick title. With that said, it is still a fantastic film that you should see, regardless of the gimmick.

10 Cloverfield Lane opens with a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gathering some belongings in an apartment before hurrying out the door. As she drives, late into the night, she gets a call from the boyfriend she just left. This is all just set up to a bad car accident that brings us to the title card. She was sideswiped and her car went careening off the road, flipping over and over. It is joined by equally distressing sound design (a great element throughout the film). Some time passes and she wakes up inside a small, windowless room with her leg handcuffed to a pipe on the wall.

This is all just the setup until we are introduced to her benefactor/captor, a fellow named Howard (John Goodman). Howard has constructed a doomsday shelter, fully stocked with food and entertainment underneath his farmhouse. Inside this bunker he has sealed himself inside with the woman, Michelle, and a young guy named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.). Why are they down here? Well, according to Howard, the air above them is contaminated by some type of attack and they have to wait down here until it clears, perhaps a year or two.

This stage setting takes a backseat to the the three way drama of Michelle trying to figure out what the truth of the outside is, as well as Howard’s true intentions. This results in a tense build up as Michelle and Howard engage in a virtual game of chess. Each side feeling out the other. Howard playing the aggressor, asserting his control, Michelle trying to figure out what the truth is behind the bluster, as well as attempting to get away.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that is best to approach knowing as little as possible. It is the sort of film whose story lies in little details and around the edges of the frame. This is a tense film from start to finish, elevated by strong writing and excellent lead performances. John Goodman, in particular, is very effective as Howard, a man whose personality swings wildly from friendly to angry and violent, as well as being just a little bit creepy. He is a man who is hard to figure out, seething with a malevolence that is ready to explode at any moment. It is fascinating to watch his character develop and how views of him change over the course of the film. He is a complex character who never seems to be completely malevolent, nor completely altruistic. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also very strong as the heroine, a character put in a situation that seems somewhat hopeless, yet never giving up. As Howard says, “You have some fight in you, I can respect that.”

Not exactly a sequel, not necessarily even in the same universe, this is a movie that builds the scene and then ratchets up the tension before sending it off into WTF territory. It is a joy to watch unfold. It is a well executed exercise in genre film making, keeping everyone guessing at the reality, never giving too much away, but giving enough to build the world and still have a complex character study within.

Highly Recommended.

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