10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

14 Mar

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

With a title like “10 Cloverfield Lane,” you would expect a direct sequel to the 2008 hit, “Cloverfield,” which was hidden in secrecy until release and has seen gained a following (just as this new movie was—even its first trailer wasn’t released until two months before the film’s release). But if you walk into the movie expecting it to be just like “Cloverfield,” you’d be disappointed. “10 Cloverfield Lane” is instead a thriller that may or may not have any relation to “Cloverfield,” aside from J.J. Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, carrying both films. The great thing about keeping this film in secrecy is that you don’t know what to expect, and as a result, you find yourself surprised and able to appreciate the film for its own merits if you’re willing to keep an open mind. “10 Cloverfield Lane” only slightly ties back to the earlier movie, such as a line about “satellites” that may be familiar to those who have a theory about a subtle visual at the end of “Cloverfield.” Anything else might be implied (and that’s all I’ll say about that).

Mostly, however, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a tense, claustrophobic thriller set inside a basement/bunker under a farmhouse. We’re kept in that area for a majority of the film. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens inside, chained to the wall. She learns from her “host,” a hulking, discomforting man named Howard (John Goodman), that he rescued her from a car crash and that he can’t let her or another occupant, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) go because something apocalyptic seems to have happened up top. “An attack,” he calls it. Michelle learns Howard is a survivalist and believes he might be crazy, but with every possibility comes something to turn it around, leaving Michelle not knowing what to think. And there’s always something about Howard that makes Michelle even more afraid of him. She’s afraid to go outside but even more afraid of staying inside…

The premise is intriguing, and director Dan Trachtenberg (making his feature debut here) does a lot with it within these confined spaces of tight areas of this basement. He doesn’t let the audience know what’s really happening outside, if there even is something happening—is there really something to fear in the world or is Michelle being held captive by this madman? There are numerous deceptions whenever we may have something figured out, leaving us guessing numerously what’s really happening and keeping us on edge with several tense scenes. What’s going on? Who is Howard, really? What does this certain thing in this place mean for us? What are those noises outside? And so on. The film is a terrific thriller because of this. It even reminded me of the mystery-shrouded first couple seasons of Bad Robot’s TV series, “Lost,” and that’s a compliment indeed.

What it does answer by the end is answered subtly for the most part; others are left suitably ambiguous; and then, there’s the final act which will appease probably the most antsy moviegoer who wants some form of closure. I won’t give it away here, but I would be lying if I said that I probably didn’t need to see it, especially since the buildup to it was so darn good (and had me thinking this was going to be the best film of the year so far). It’s a little disjointed while not necessarily “disappointing.” (I may have to see the film a second time to look back at the hints and clues I know were present at times during the film.) It doesn’t hurt the film as much as I thought it did when I walked out—a few hours later, I had thought more about it and felt I should’ve seen it coming from the moment I bought my ticket stub. It’s a little difficult to explain in this review, since it’s spoiler-free, but I think the best way to describe it is this: “10 Cloverfield Lane” works better as its own thriller than as a “blood-relative” to “Cloverfield” (Abrams’ words).

Effectively done filmmaking aids in the film’s favor, with smooth camera movements adding to the increased tension. But also essential is the acting from the three principals. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is strong in a role that is a rarity in horror movies: a heroine who is smart. You know how most horror-movie protagonists make dumb decisions that lead to audience members wanting to shout advice to them through the screen? (“Call the police!” “Get out of the house!” Etc.) I only felt the need to do that once with her (ONCE), and then she immediately did what I wanted her to do at that moment! From the moment she awakens in her strange surroundings for the first time, you’re with her, thinking of what you would do if you were chained to that wall and had to get to your cellphone on the other side of the room. Then there’s John Goodman, one of film’s finest character actors, as Howard—he is nothing short of brilliant in this role. He has to go back and forth between a kind teddy bear of a guy and a scary, dangerous madman, and he pulls off each transition perfectly. John Gallagher Jr. has less to do as sort-of “the other guy,” but he holds his own fine.

I may have my own problems with the ending of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” but what leads up to it is a masterful, suspenseful thriller that makes me look over a nitpick like that. Overall the film is terrific, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the film again in order to be sure of whether or not my feelings toward the final act are altered.

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