10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

I’m normally a pretty savvy dude when it comes to knowing my ‘upcoming movies’ shit…but I have to hand it to JJ Abrams and the good folks down there at Bad Robot. I, like MANY other people out there, had NO idea of this flick’s existence…as in ZERO INFORMATION. Then in January, this curious little teaser trailer hit the web, featuring the delectable Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the bear-like John Goodman, and some redneck-looking dude trapped and living in a bomb shelter for some reason, as tensions run high and weird things happen beyond the sealed doors. Then I saw the title, and the word ‘Cloverfield’ just jumped off the screen at me. Could this odd little movie be SOMEHOW related to THAT surprisingly tense ‘found footage’ Creature Feature ‘ from 2008? Could it simply be a coincidence? In Hollywood…not bloody likely. Now right off the bat, I’ll admit that ‘Cloverfield’ worked for me. I’m one of those people who’s lucky enough to be able to effortlessly handle cinematic visual gimmicks like ‘found footage’ and 3D and, as a result, I found myself caught right up in the perilous journey of a handful of young denizens of New York City, who find their night of partying disrupted by a massive rampaging beast of unknown origin smashing its way through the urban sprawl and killing scores of people in the process. I found it to be a tight little thriller that, for the most part, used its gimmick well, while effectively suggesting much bigger things going on beyond the frame of the camera. But, despite a couple lingering questions, it was pretty self-contained, as stories go. Sequel potential?…sure. Why not. But honestly…THIS was not a direction I expected.
’10 Cloverfield Lane’ opens with an immediate introduction to a pissed off and heart-broken ‘Michelle’ (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she packs up and flees a disintegrating relationship. As she drives…somewhere, her car strikes something hard and tumbles off the road, throwing her into an extended period of unconsciousness. When she comes to, she finds that her leg is now fitted with a dirty brace and she’s cuffed to a makeshift bed. She soon meets ‘Howard’ (John Goodman), the obviously unhinged survivalist that claims to have rescued her from death and brought her to his underground shelter to recover. After a brave escape attempt, ‘Michelle’ is forced to accept the possibility that ‘Howard’s frightening stories of mass strikes on civilian populations, toxic air and possible extraterrestrial radio transmissions MAY be true. She meets the other inhabitant of the comfortably furnished bomb shelter; a young bearded ‘good ole boy’ named ‘Emmett’ (John Gallagher Jr.). ‘Emmett’, providing some eyewitness testimony to some of ‘Howard’s stories, says that he fought to gain entrance and has only been there a few days longer than ‘Michelle’. From that point on priorities shift, trust comes and goes, and plans are made, all the while mysterious sounds and events occur outside, heard but not seen by the trapped survivors.
As ‘first times in the directors chair’ go, this is a slam-dunk for Dan Trachtenberg. He and Bad Robot were smart in taking on a smaller scale story that relied on character dynamic, tension and mystery. Added to which, movies set largely in one location are often easy on the studio’s pocketbook…and we all know they like that! And personally, I like flicks like ‘Panic Room’ (2002) and ‘Phone Booth’ (2002), effective thrillers that capably make the most of their single location settings. This one definitely deserves to rub shoulders with the likes of flicks like those.
Starting with the limited cast…it was spot on. Now, it may sound like bias when it comes to Miss Winstead, as I’ve had a ‘thing’ for her for about as long as I can remember, but she was a great choice for the lead role. Apparently she was also the ONLY choice for the character of ‘Michelle’; the resourceful and determined clothing designer trapped in the hellish and confusing scenario. It was so refreshing to see a female character that’s instantly on the ball and ready to work out problems for herself. Right behind her (at times literally) is John Goodman. He’s a Force of Nature here, truly an intimidating character. But through it all, the possibility of him being right about the new state of the world above looms, and lends some credence to some of his harsh rules and decisions. Never having heard of John Gallagher Jr. before this, he melded into the rough-around-the-edges-but-nice guy ‘Emmett’, and provided a nice buffer between the two opposing forces of ‘Michelle’ and ‘Howard’.
Another positive aspect was the simplicity of the story. It knew what it was and it kept the proceedings lean, which gave room for the actors to fill out the story with their committed performances. I found myself engrossed in the narrative through damn near the whole 1 hour and 43 minute run-time, largely due to the small but genuinely intriguing hints and clues that are scattered about, concerning certain people and situations.
Coming to the ‘blood relation to Cloverfield’ aspect of things, that’s a bit more of a stretch. Knowing that it’s supposed to share the same universe as THAT movie, you can accept what happens, especially in the 3rd Act, as being related to the events of ‘Cloverfield’…despite the 8 year gap between stories somehow. But really, there isn’t ANYTHING that overtly connects these two movies. Basically, they’re connected…if you WANT them to be connected. You CAN find connections…if you really look. Quite honestly, they could easily just hand this movie a new title, change one key shot, and people would just accept it as a ‘stand alone’ that wouldn’t need to perch on the shoulders of another flick…and that’d be ‘that’. But, on the flip side, connecting it to ‘Cloverfield’ does open up some interesting possibilities for any upcoming ‘sequels’ or off-shoots, and it does make you ask a few more questions as THIS movie plays out.
If I had to complain openly, I would have to say that there’s a sequence in the 3rd Act where the antagonist is really poorly lit and edited. Yes, it’s ENTIRELY possible that this was a deliberate stylistic choice, but given that we’d waited as long as we had to get a look at what’s going on, I didn’t like having to strain for detail. There’s also a creepy subplot that’s very definitely touched upon, regarding something potentially horrible in ‘Howard’s past that suddenly just…disappears. A big deal is made of it, but there’s no pay-off…no resolution. It felt like something had either hit the Cutting Room Floor or the writers had a moment of laziness. It wasn’t a HUGE deal, but I did question it as the Final Credits rolled.
All in all, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is a lean, tight, and efficient thriller carried along by three very engaging ‘leads’, in a story where the questions and mystery are doled out at a patient, even pace. The fantastical elements could’ve been expanded upon but overall, I was happy with what I got. Does it NEED to be a ‘Cloverfield’ sequel? No…it doesn’t. Does it add to it, taking THAT apparent connection into account? Yes…it does. At least…I thought so. Dan Trachtenberg has made a good film on his first outing as a Director, and I’m curious to see what the man does next. Hell, if this one does well enough, and I hope it does, I’d really be interested to see a direct sequel to this one, picking up after this one ends which, by the way, lends perfectly to a continuation of the potentially epic story. But even if all we get is this movie…at least we’ll have this movie. Is it Required Viewing on The Big Screen? Not necessarily…but I had a good time watching it with my girlfriend in the space and darkness of our local movie theatre…and you might too. That being said, if you do go for it streaming or VOD, it’s still a good time. I can easily recommend ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ to pretty much anyone who likes taut, efficient thrillers that are carried by solid performances, and some thought behind the story. It’s a good one.

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