-A taut, albeit messy, thriller with a far-fetched third act.
It’s hard to try to write a review for a movie that has everyone on the internet begging for it not to be spoiled for them, so I decided to wait two weeks before actually writing this so I can put some spoilers in. So..WARNING: MILD SPOILERS.
10 Cloverfield Lane did not become famous because of the fact that it had ‘Cloverfield’ in its title. No, it was more the brilliant marketing campaign that provided almost a primal curiosity in everyone who saw the trailer. Movie lovers everywhere had no idea that this film even existed, coming out of J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions, the company who kept this a secret by marketing the hell out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the last several years. To clear this up immediately, I’m not actually a fan of the first Cloverfield film. As someone who grew up worshiping the classic King-Kong films and the Japanese dubbed Godzilla franchise from Toho, I’m not a stranger to strong monster movies, but the issue Cloverfield has is mired mostly in its awful, patchwork shaky-cam and its uninteresting characters. Then earlier this year, a trailer came out that had ‘Cloverfield’ in the title, but clearly did not bear very big resemblance to the first one.
Our story is a complete three-hander. We have Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, a woman running from her home-city of New Orleans after a nasty breakup. Distracted as they argue over the phone, it’s actually Bradley Cooper’s voice as her fiancee Ben, Michelle is run off the road and gets in a terrible crash in a ditch beside the highway…
She wakes up chained to a wall in a bunker straight out of a horror-filled kidnapping movie. A lot of critics have jokingly compared it to 2015’s Room in that someone gets kidnapped, but it doesn’t go much further than that. She has cuts on her face, a leg brace, and an IV in her arm, and she immediately begins thinking the thoughts that we all would, terrified that she’s been kidnapped by a complete savage.
She’s not entirely correct however, as the circumstances are a little different than she would expect. Instead, her captor is John Goodman’s Howard, an ex-military survivalist who tells her that the world is gone, for reasons and by mechanisms unknown, but that he saved her life and brought her to his bunker to have her life spared in the destruction. Howard seems equally creepy and reasonable at the same time, and Michelle doesn’t quite know how to react. She initially does not believe him, but then she’s introduced to Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) who says that he also saw the world ending, and actually got into a fight with Howard to allow him in the bunker. (He helped Howard build it a few years back.)
Now that the scene has been set, the remaining movie is a question who/what is legitimate in such a wild situation for Michelle. One of the critical talking points for the film is that it relentlessly builds dread and tension from within this bunker, and I have to slightly disagree. While I love the set-up and I think a few sequences are genuinely thrilling, the end of the first-to second act of this film is little boring, and is only saved by how strong the performances by Winstead and Goodman are. There’s obviously an attempt at an intimidation factor for Goodman’s Howard and it doesn’t always work. The dramatic elements about Howard’s past, however, integral to the eventual escape plans of Michelle, are not explored enough and not aided by the power of absence. In a movie about three, mostly two, people, I want to see the ins and outs of their character, and while some of the subtlety here is definitely tasteful, I can’t stand how underdeveloped the ideas behind Goodman’s relationship with his daughter is, and how interesting that could’ve been when executed correctly.
When she does decide to escape, the events leading up to it, and the eventual sequence where she tries to leave the bunker, are the best scenes of the movie by a lot. They are wildly thrilling and interesting, done with true flair from first time director Dan Trachtenberg. It’s refreshing to have a proper third-person camera instead of the shaky camera of the first installment, and even though we have issues with narrative in this, the idea that its tone and themes are similar to the first film is really interesting. It’s only a ‘spiritual’ sequel, but it works. The third act however, that occurs after the attempted escape is ridiculous, disappointing and cliched. So, now that we get our sci/fi elements in the end, the movie tends to really suffer, as if they decided to take the end straight out of War of the Worlds.
Although this has the occasional element of a really good thriller, and half of the film is interesting and well-executed, the other half is often clumsy and slightly messy. It’s hard to make a film that gets overshadowed by its ad campaign, but this definitely did.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE:
Director: Dan Trachtenberg (X)
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.
with: Bradley Cooper and Suzanne Cryer
Genre: Thriller and Science Fiction