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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane is a 4 Stars out of 5!

In 2008, the apocalyptic monster movie Cloverfield arrived in theaters and wowed audiences with its relatively low-budget sci-fi spectacle. A sequel was in development following its success, but eight years later what we've got instead is 10 Cloverfield Lane, another fairly low-budget sci-fi thriller with little connection to the earlier movie besides its title featuring the word "cloverfield."

The idea is that "Cloverfield" is an anthology series brand, like The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, only for theatrical film releases. 10 Cloverfield Lanewas actually once a totally original property independent of any other (the initial script, by John Campbell and Matt Stuecken, was called The Cellar). Then producer J. J. Abrams stamped the Cloverfield title on it, and now it's sort of like an adopted cousin rather than a descendant of the 2008 movie. 
This one is set far away from the subway tunnels of New York City, mostly inside an underground doomsday bunker in Southwest Louisiana.
That’s where Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up after getting into a serious car accident. She’s handcuffed to a wall inside a heavily locked room, but when she meets her host/captor, Howard (John Goodman), he insists that he saved her life and is continuing to protect her from a dangerous threat outside the shelter.
Also in the bunker is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a local who helped build the structure. Michelle reaches out to him for help in understanding whether or not there’s actually anything to be afraid of beyond the hatch doors. But he doesn’t seem to know much, either, beyond what Howard has told him. It could be nuclear fallout. It could be “the Martians.” Because of the uncertainty, Michelle remains skeptical, and so she makes every effort she can to get away.
Whether he’s right or she’s right is a great mystery driving the story in 10 Cloverfield Lane. And the movie keeps playing with expectations by constantly having us switch up our own theories on what’s actually going on. Is Howard merely a kidnapper? Is he indeed a do-gooder but still a “monster” of sorts? Just when we think he’s lying, we’re given a reason to think there may really be a threat outside. Then we’re given a reason to think he’s lying again, then not, and so forth.
Eventually, it doesn’t matter. The curiosity coupled with discomfort with her companions gives Michelle cause to find out for sure (and we thank her because the suspense is killing us and the sound design and the alarming score by Bear McCreary is keeping us on edge, too). There’s a sense that escape will just be a leap from the frying pan into the fire, though, especially since she started out escaping a lesser kind of trap -- marriage -- only to wind up truly locked away in a very confined domestic situation.
Obviously I’m not going to spoil the details of how the twists and turns play out let alone the truth about the scenario and how it ends. I’ve probably shared too much already, and 10 Cloverfield Lane is the kind of movie that’s best entered cold, knowing as little as possible. Especially because that aligns us with Michelle and her position of always being in the dark as far as what’s going on.
Although not a found-footage movie like Cloverfield, this movie similarly involves obscured perspective. Instead of being limited in what we see and know by a character’s shaky handheld camera, we’re hampered by the movie strictly sticking to Michelle’s minimal point of view and awareness. Director Dan Trachtenberg, who makes his feature debut here, is very resourceful in keeping the storytelling clean and conformed to the rules set by its narrative subjectivity.
Michelle is also very resourceful, a truer representation of survival than the hiding survivalist depicted through Howard’s character. Both parts are played with great contrast to one another by Winstead and Goodman, too. She is neither the trembling nor the outright confident woman we usually find leading movies like this. Winstead plays the part more natural than extreme. As a result, Michelle regularly comes off as more confounded and amazed than scared.
And Goodman’s performance as the creepy but well-intentioned doomsday prepper is so brilliant, even if sometimes cartoonishly over the top, that we’re never sure what he’s all about and whether he should be trusted. Goodman is a remarkable actor who has shined mostly in supporting roles over the last three decades, and while this isn’t necessarily his best work in years it’s definitely the greatest showcase of the extent of his talent in a long time. Way too long.
At its best, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tight, well-acted single-location film play with thrilling drama, a good deal of action considering the limited setting and a number of surprises. But it does go for more in the end with a third act that delivers a major shift in space and tone, and that won’t be a satisfying direction for everyone. Regardless, it’s still all handled in a manner that’s efficient and necessary. If 10 Cloverfield Lane is to be considered a sequel, it’s one that’s even better than the original.