10 Cloverfield Lane Review

MONSTERS COME IN MANY FORMS


 

Back in 2008, Cloverfield, a movie that was made for $25 million, made box-off success with a worldwide total of roughly $170 million (profiting almost 7 times its production budget). The movie itself centered around a group of young adults who were caught up in survival as a giant monster attacks and rampages through New York City. Produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by Matt Reeves (the director behind Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Cloverfield was uniquely shot as a “found footage” feature (something different for the genre and played up as a strength for the movie’s limited budget) as well as its marketing secrecy of keeping the film “under wraps” until its release, which also played to movie’s success. Now after 8 years since that movie came out, director Dan Trachtenberg and J.J. Abrams (as producer again) return with a “new” Cloverfield titled movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane. Is this movie worth seeing (and a true sequel to its 2008 predecessor) or is it bizarre movie that’s far cry from the original Cloverfield?

THE STORY


Fed up with her unsatisfying with her fiancé Bean, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) takes off, hitting the road, trying to distance her from her past life. While traveling on the interstate in the dead of night, Michelle is involved in car accident, waking up in fortified concrete bunker built by Howard (John Goodman), a paranoid survivalist who position himself as a hero to Michelle, saving her a terrible death, while pointing out that there’s been a horrific attack of some kind on the outside world above. Wounded and afraid for her life, Michelle treads on thin-ice around Howard, finding a friendly companion in Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), another resident who helped the mysterious man build his underground “safe haven” bunker”. Unable to leave and with cabin fever settling in with Howard’s paranoia, Michelle and Emmett resign to Howard’s controlling demeanor, creating an uneasy “family” dynamic between the three of them as the days play out and dark secrets are slowly revealed and brought to light.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


I remember seeing the trailers for Cloverfield and (I’ll admit) I was intrigued by this whole premise of a giant monster movie that was told via a “found footage” presentation. However, I initial passed on seeing the movies in theaters (I went on a cruise to Australia and New Zealand for two weeks) and was busy when I got back. I did rent the movie when it came out home video release later that year and I found it good, but not great. Again, the premise and presentation of the movie was interesting (with the plenty of mystery), but it wasn’t strong enough for me to buy the movie and watch over and over again. When I saw the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, I’ll admit I was impressed with it, feeling it did a great job of “teasing” viewer with mystery and a sense of foreboding. Just from that, I was immediately sold on the movie (as well as being curious to see if this movie was truly a sequel to Cloverfield) and bought a ticket to go see the movie on opening day. In truth, 10 Cloverfield Lane, while no really concrete evidence to link the two movies together, is a phenomenal movie that’s both gripping and intense and can stand on its own merits.

Dan Trachtenberg, who previous directed the short films Kickin’ and Portal: No Escape, helms, 10 Cloverfield Lane, making this his full length feature debut as a director. And I think he does an excellent job doing it, proving effect in the movie’s thriller / scary tactics and in its storytelling. Trachtenberg does exceptional work in making Howard’s underground bunker (the film’s central set piece) has a sort of juxtaposition feeling of being warm and inviting (with various familiar home goods and knickknacks), but also confining and claustrophobic. What also works for the film is how Trachtenberg plays with a viewer’s perception of the movie (keeping them on their toes as the saying goes) as he weaves his story with plenty of twists and turns that many viewers will not see coming. In truth, the movie’s idea of “terror” is an interesting and mysterious one, leaving the question open for a viewer’s interoperation. What’s scarier? What unknown pandemic lies above (in the outside world) or being trapped in a confined space with an unstable / borderline psychopath. As my title says above, “Monster comes in many forms” and think 10 Cloverfield Lane (and Dan Trachtenberg) poises that question beautifully.

As I said above, 10 Cloverfield Lane has little to do with 2008’s Cloverfield Having the name in the title carries weight and also sharing similar mythos to the narrative (a young adult who is confronted with a horrific ordeal and must escape to survive) helps. As producer J.J Abrams said that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “blood relative” or spiritual successor” to Cloverfield. That being said, those expecting to see “crystal clear” references between the two are going to be disappointed as the movie is not a considered to be a direct sequel to the 2008 film. Sorry….no giant monster ramping through a city and no defining answer on the fate of Cloverfield characters Rob and Beth.

With that being said, the origin of 10 Cloverfield Lane was conceived by John Campbell and Matt Stuecken and originally dubbed as “The Cellar”. However, when Paramount Pictures and producer J.J. Abrams acquired the title, they sort “rebranded” the movie with the Cloverfield name (aka 10 Cloverfield Lane). Still, the original narrative thread of “The Cellar” is left intact in the movie, but sort of takes a different turn during the film’s third act. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the third act of the movie, but it’s clear (at that point) where the original movie ends and the reworked versions begins. I feel that’s mine only complaint for the movie I have (if that at all). Regardless, 10 Cloverfield Lane is effective in thrills and surprises.

Additionally, like Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane has several mysterious and questions that are left unanswered by the time the movie reaches its ending, with the movie focused on the current “present” situation (presented in the movie) rather what happened before, after, and elsewhere during the course of the feature. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (didn’t bother me), but it might bother some viewers.

Like the movie Ex Machina, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a small story that doesn’t have a sprawling cast, filled with supporting actors and characters in its film. Thus, the movie itself relies on the primary performance from its three main actors and each one handles it masterfully well. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, know her roles in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and the PBS TV Show Mercy Street, plays the film’s central character Michelle. While it isn’t an Oscar-worthy performance (and it’s not meant to be), Winstead handles her role well in a capacity for what the movie needs, a relatable entry point for viewers that conveys fear, confusion, doubt, relief, and unbridled survival determination. All in all, a great performance for the Winstead and in the movie’s protagonist.

Likewise, actor John Goodman’s performance in the film is a terrific one, playing the character of enigmatic Howard. It’s a daunting task for Goodman to tackle such a character (an ambiguous persona that’s somewhere between well-intentioned individual and paranoia psychopath. Its great work and Goodman’s conveys that beautiful on screen. Also, given his real-life physical stature, his on-screen presence is a formidable one, a looming figure in a such a small and confided place. Beyond Winstead and Goodman’s roles, the third performance in this small cast comes from the lackidsical southern drawl character of Emmett, played by actor John Gallagher. I liked Gallagher in the HBO TV show Newsroom and his performance in this movie is a good one, offering plenty of scenes with levity in a very “serious” movie (which is somewhat refreshing) as he aids Michelle in hatching a plan to escape from Howard’s underground fortress. Lastly, (and I find this very surprising) actor Bradley Cooper has a very small part in the movie, playing Michelle’s ex-husband Ben (voice only).

FINAL THOUGHTS


Paranoia and mystery play as the central elements for the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane. Director Dan Trachtenberg’s film is a remarkable film, one that’s plays with a viewer’s mind with well-drawn out execution and foreboding intrigue, with its narrative and from its three primary performances. Its sharply made movie that definitely has its twists and turns and I know viewers will like that (keeping them on their toes as movie shifts from scene to scene). To me, I thought that this was an excellent movie (and a fun movie experience) and I would highly recommend this movie to see this movie in theaters. While on a smaller scale than the original Cloverfield (and bearing no direct sequel link to the 2008 movie), 10 Cloverfield Lane is no less effective in its ways to excite and unnerve a viewer’s expectations while watching this movie.

4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Release On: March 11th, 2016
Reviewed On: March 12th, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane is rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language

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