10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Written by: Damien Chazelle, Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken
Starring: Douglas M. Griffin, John Gallagher Jr., John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 103 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Following an argument with her fiancé Ben, Michelle leaves New Orleans and drives through rural Louisiana. Late at night, she turns on the radio to hear that there are continuous blackouts in major cities. Distracted by a call from Ben, Michelle gets into an accident and is rendered unconscious. She wakes up chained to a wall, and is approached by a man named Howard, who explains that an unknown chemical or nuclear attack has taken place and that he has brought her to his bunker after finding her on the side of the road. Also living with Ben is Emmet, another survivor who witnessed the attack and fled to the bunker. Michelle is unconvinced of Ben’s motivations but escaping seems almost impossible….
Two months ago, not many knew that 10 Cloverfield Lane even existed, let alone was finished and about to be released into cinemas. Quite an achievement, considering that it’s pretty much impossible to keep anything a secret in today’s digital world. A potential follow-up to the 2008 monster movie, a terrific rollercoaster ride that remains one of the best of all Found Footage movies, has actually been mooted since 2008, though the true origins of 10 Cloverfield Lane lie in a 2010 script entitled The Cellar which was subsequently much rewritten. But what you probably really want to know is, is it actually a sequel to Cloverfield? I don’t think it’s ruining things for anybody who’s going to go and watch the film to say it isn’t a sequel at all, unless things are being hidden from us, and you may exit the cinema with as many questions as when you went in. I’m not sure that it even exists in the same universe as Cloverfield, except for a visual reference to the company responsible for the satellite that was seen crashing into the ocean at the end of that movie [and that’s no big deal as there’s also a gas station which was in Super 8]. Rather, it just seems to have certain links to the earlier film which you can’t really explain but still seem to be there. It’s rather like Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch, where they decided to ditch Michael Myers and tell a totally new story only linked by Halloween and some barely perceptible DNA with the earlier movies. That film wasn’t received too well [though I rather like it myself] and it was back to slashing again for that franchise , but 10 Cloverfield Lane has had a mostly great response and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll be seeing the word Cloverfield in a further feature at some point.
The praise for 10 Cloverfield Lane is justified….for pretty much the entirely of the first three quarters. It’s proof that, yes, huge spectacle and big action is great, while I’m generally one of those people who would rather see something interesting on the screen than hear pages of dialogue, but sometimes nothing beats seeing a small number of good [and they really have to be good, because there’s little to hide behind] actors and/or actresses confined to a small location and really going it at. The Found Footage style of Cloverfield has been ditched in favour of a more conventional style, which is welcome, and it’s all pretty tense and exciting stuff that isn’t at all slow or dull despite featuring just three people in a bunker. However, the greatness then goes out of the window as the film approaches the hour mark. The change in tone is jarring, but more of a problem is how badly executed the final section of the film is. Still, I prefer to praise a film than to bury it, and there really is a lot that’s worthy of praise, while the difference with the much more realistic approach taken by Cloverfield couldn’t be more pronounced even in the first moments of 10 Cloverfield Lane [though I should really stop comparing it to Cloverfield considering that I spent much of the first paragraph of this review explaining that it’s only very slightly connected to it!].
The opening scene of Michelle leaving her house and a brief tremor occurring immediately puts Bear McCreary’s pulsating music score to the fore, and this is something that continues throughout much of the rest of the movie, the score being an important feature. After only a couple of minutes, during which we learn that there have been blackouts, the viewer is suddenly assaulted by a car crash which really comes across as a shock to the stomach what with the jolting sound effects and frantic images. Michelle awakes chained to a wall, and there is a slight whiff of Torture Porn for a couple of minutes until she frees herself [rather too easily] and tries to leave the bunker she’s in, but with no success. She’s being kept prisoner by Howard, who says that there’s terrible stuff going on up on the surface, and that she can only be safe if she stays with him in the bunker underneath his house. What makes the proceedings so incredibly tense even early on is that we don’t know whether to believe Howard or not, and, perhaps even more importantly, don’t even know if he’s good guy or bad. One minute he’s talking sadly of his dead daughter, and the next [the sound effect when he hits the table is quite shocking, at least in the cinema], he’s exploding into anger during dinner and seems like he’s about to batter Michelle and Emmett, the other guy who seems to be living with Howard voluntarily, to death. John Goodman is just superb in quite a difficult role, because he’s playing a guy who the viewer isn’t sure about throughout much of the film and therefore has to keep certain things hidden, yet still provides lots of great mannerisms in a rounded portrayal of a man who is undoubtedly [this seems obvious from the offset] is a little disturbed. However, he could be telling the truth, couldn’t he?
Michelle is unsure about him and keeps trying to escape in scenes which may not sound like much on paper but which are bed-wettingly tense because we’ve been spending so much time just hanging out with these characters and waiting for this powder keg to explode, yet it’s amazing how well the film moves forward, while director Dan Trachtenberg, in an impressive feature debut, and cinematographer Jeff Cutter [isn’t that a more appropriate name for an editor?] keep things highly cinematic by constantly visiting different rooms and paying close attention to certain details. Meanwhile we’re kept in the dark as to what is really on for some time until a moment which I won’t describe fully [gone are the days I give loads of spoilers away unless it’s a older movie that I feel most people will have probably seen], but you may have a really haunting image of a very distressed woman, who you’ll probably be both repulsed by, and feel exceedingly sorry for, banging on the window of a door begging to be let in, in your mind for some time. Frankly, I couldn’t believe how intelligent, how gripping, and how daring 10 Cloverfield Lane was by this time, so much so that I was totally prepared to overlook the odd silly thing like being able to make a hazmat suit out of a shower curtain and duct tape, and I had pretty much forgiven co-producer J. J. Abrams for his Star Wars movie until….
Things fall apart near the end, and not just because it seems like full-on Found Footage is back what with all the shakycam [when will modern filmmakers realise that when people run vision is reasonably steady?]. It was obviously felt that many viewers would want a more conventional, action-orientated [albeit one with a ridiculous sudden rush of Girl Power] conclusion then one which would be more in keeping with the rest of the film, and though it irritated me so much that it seemed like I was watching a different movie, or a movie which had the ending of another one stuck onto it, I can see the logic. More bothersome is that some plot elements introduced earlier on are completely thrown away, and that this section seems very rushed and poorly done, with shoddy CGI that often doesn’t look properly integrated with the rest of the film [this seems to be getting worse and worse at the moment, with a distinct: “That’ll do” attitude], not helped by some boringly generic design work. I have no idea if all this was in the original script, and may be totally wrong here [which in a way makes it worse], but it all smacks of studio interference. Writers, producers etc. need to be more trusting of an audience’s intelligence at times, otherwise movies will continue to get dumber overall and more and more people will accept this like sheep.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, on her way to becoming a genre veteran, makes her almost too resourceful heroine into a real person you’re behind all the way, and certainly holds her own against Goodman working at his best. John Gallagher Jnr. is somewhat dominated by the other two but is still fine. Overall I feel very sad about 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film that, in the end, just doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. It works incredibly well for much of its running time, but it’s very fine first three quarters can’t help but feel like one long lead-up to a tacked-on departure point for a follow-up. Still, in terms of percentage, there’s still far more good than bad in the movie, hench my star rating. People seem to be equally divided on the ending, but my advice would be to go and see the film, then leave about twenty minutes before the end. Then you don’t run the risk of leaving with disappointment and bewilderment.