by Caleb Hartung
“10 Cloverfield Lane,” a spiritual successor to J.J. Abrams’ “Cloverfield” released in 2008, is a solid slow-paced thriller starring Mary-Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman. This film toys with your expectations and takes you down a path full of twists. There are no real spoilers ahead, but I’d recommend knowing as little as possible about the movie to get the most out of the experience.
After reviewing two wildly successful movies, I thought I should try to find something closer to average to balance things out. I had every expectation for this to be a mediocre entry into the psychological-thriller-in-a-box subgenre. The movie’s defining characteristics took those expectations and flipped them around completely. I cannot say that this film is fantastic or ground-breaking, but it is entertaining enough to watch on a rainy day.
When watching the trailer for “10 Cloverfield Lane,” I saw a twist ending coming a mile away. The trailer is set up in a way that evokes a comparison to M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” by hinting at a similar ending. For those of you that have never seen it, “The Village” is about a rural community haunted by creatures, which are revealed in a twist ending to be not as dangerous as the people in the village are led to believe.
In “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the strange and overpowering Howard (Goodman) vaguely tells the main protagonist, Michelle (Winstead), that “there has been an attack,” and he needs to keep her in his underground doomsday shelter for her own safety. While it becomes immediately apparent that Goodman’s character is not telling the whole truth about the situation, the truth reveals itself in a way that I was not anticipating at all. Sure, some of the final epiphanies that the protagonist uncovers could be guessed from the beginning, but the journey to get there will certainly throw audiences for a loop.
In order to get the full experience, Abrams assumes that you know that this movie is “a blood relative” to his earlier work “Cloverfield.” In “Cloverfield,” an alien monster crashes into New York City. The movie is shot from a first-person perspective and presented as if the footage were found from a hand-held camera. “Cloverfield” could be described as a cross between “The Blair Witch Project” (also famous for its found-footage delivery) and “Godzilla.” “10 Cloverfield Lane,” however, ditches the unique filming style for a more traditional approach.
If you are a fan of the original movie, “10 Cloverfield Lane” might leave you a bit disappointed. The massive, towering monster in “Cloverfield” was rumored to appear in “10 Cloverfield Lane” prior to its release, but I would not recommend spending the whole movie on the edge of your seat waiting for it to appear. I’m not sure whether or not a single movie can really be enough to establish a canon, but this entry certainly stretches the limits of the franchise’s continuity. I would not say that it completely butchers the original idea, but there are some definite plot holes present if one were to try to stitch together the two movies in the same universe. Abrams described this film as the original’s sister, but they are more like second cousins in terms of the plot and cinematography.
Now, you might say to yourself: “Hang on, I thought I should know as little as possible to enjoy it? Why is he telling me that I should know about the original movie?” Herein lies a distinct problem. The film is set up so that the audience should be in the same mindset as the protagonist. When she is taken underground and told of the attack, she seems doubtful. Things are presented in a way that makes the protagonist (and the audience) think that there is no attack at all, and the creepy guy has kidnapped her for purely creepy purposes.
If, however, a person in the audience knows about the original movie, they would know that the attack is real. Abrams is no shoddy director, and has clearly taken this into account by emphasizing Goodman’s penchant for telling half-truths. Looking back, I don’t think he ever lies outright (about the attack, at least).
In many of Abrams’ works (including the hit TV show “Lost”), this reversal of expectations is a key aspect to the story. This film is no exception, though I would argue that it is not as effective as it might have seemed during production. Unfortunately, the final result of knowing more than the protagonist feels less like dramatic irony and more like a disconnect from the character.
Speaking of the characters, Michelle and Howard are both incredibly entertaining. At the very beginning of the movie, I thought I was going to hate Michelle. She first comes off as a flaky, helpless Millennial, but soon transforms into something completely different. At some point, you have probably watched a horror movie where you’ve talked to the screen and said something like: “No, you idiot, don’t do this—do that other thing instead!” I had one of those moments when Michelle was cuffed to the wall and tried to reach for a bag across the room when there was a pole literally right next to her. To my surprise, within seconds of voicing my advice, she took the pole. From that point on, she was satisfyingly clever and resourceful.
If you have any doubts about Goodman’s character Howard, let me assure you that he is every bit as disturbing in the movie as he is in the trailer. I imagine that there was a scene cut out where Howard was getting a permit to build his underground doomsday shelter. In this scene he would say something like: “No really, officer! When you take into account how far down it goes, I am 500 yards away from the school.” There is also another male character. I can’t even remember his name, which shows how much of an impact he has, how good the acting was or how long of a lifespan he had. No, I refuse to acknowledge that hint as a spoiler. That’s less like revealing the ending of “The Usual Suspects” and more along the lines of saying: “Hey, that Stormtrooper is going to miss this next shot.” You don’t have to be a psychic to see that one coming.
Overall, J.J. Abrams was able to make “10 Cloverfield Lane” into a solid, entertaining thriller.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 8 A&E