10 Cloverfield Lane is tense and intriguing, but slightly more exciting in concept than execution

I’ll get this out of the way immediately and admit that I liked Cloverfield a fair amount. The shaky-cam didn’t bother me, I thought the perspective on the Godzilla movie was fresh, and I was genuinely invested in the outcome. Cloverfield 2, however, is absolutely not a thing that the world needed. From that perspective, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an insanely good sequel, in that it has almost nothing to do with Cloverfield.

Really, 10 Cloverfield Lane shares much more with the Curate sections of War of the Worlds, the fantastic Wes Craven flick Red Eye, and that imaginary super-bleak movie that people conjure up when they hear about Room. There are only three people in the cast. There are no scenes of cities being destroyed. And mercifully, there is no shaky cam. It treats Cloverfield as a baseline for an anthology series, hopefully exploring small-scale scenarios in large-scale catastrophes, and the smallness and intimacy of it is incredibly exciting. On the other hand, the Cloverfield link is a fairly shameless marketing ploy, but if it gets movies like this in the cineplex, I’m on board.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a big-studio version of the kind of movie that is normally done for pennies, but the talent behind the camera mostly sticks to the indieness of the proceedings. There are caveats though, and when the big-studio influence pops in its almost always for the worst. Bear McCreary’s score feels like something out of a larger movie, which is distracting rather than classing up the joint. Some of the more arbitrary plot devices (barrels, aerosols) seem to come from an entirely different planet, and the third act has a bit of a focus-group feeling to it. At one point, it leans into its attempt to be “indie” a bit too strongly, setting a montage of the character killing time to upbeat music which doesn’t quite gel with the tone before and after (a later scene pulls a similar trick to great effect though).

The above is to say that 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t perfect, because the rest of what I’ll say is that so many things about it are fantastic! As Howard, the unstable owner of the bunker, John Goodman leans on his physical presence rather than his charisma and reminds us how terrifying Goodman can truly be (the Coens are the only ones who tap into this side of him this well). He’s a dark and mysterious character, but no cheap tricks and twists are played with regards to his motivation. As the hero, Mary Elizabeth Winstead moves from being a welcome presence in movies ranging from Final Destination 3 to Scott Pilgrim into likely becoming a full-blown Movie Star. Her character, Michelle, is a victim, but is never portrayed as a damsel in distress. She’s resourceful, smart, and understandably vexed. It’s a great performance and a great role. John Gallagher Jr rounds out the trio providing some well-needed levity and charisma, but Goodman and Winstead absolutely steal the show.

10 Cloverfield Lane is what happens when someone intentionally tries to create a midight classic. Thankfully, the people involved are talented enough that it works, but the seams show. That being said, a world where movies like this populate the cineplex rather than spending a day in a little theater (if you’re lucky) is a world I want to live in. My advice: put Cloverfield out of your mind and meet it on its own merits. You won’t be disappointed.

B

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10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.
Rotten Tomatoes (90%)

Some spoilery comments (highlight to see):

  • The ending really knocks it down a whole peg I think. I like that Michelle wasn’t immediately killed or something “edgy” like that, but devolving into an action climax outside didn’t resonate for me. The movie ends when she gets out and overcomes Howard, but the rest is shown as Story Proper rather than the epilogue it should have been.
  • I talked above about how great Michelle is as a character, but I really want to mention how great Howard is as a villain. He’s a murderous psychopath, but he’s not wrong, which leads to an interesting dynamic. Even as a proper sayer of doom, he’s still clearly the villain. I also like that the movie never hides his instability or uses John Goodman’s charisma to get us to like Howard at all. He’s constantly a ticking time bomb, we just don’t know how big the explosion will be. Although that passwords/Little Women scene was a bit too on the nose.
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10 Cloverfield Lane is tense and intriguing, but slightly more exciting in concept than execution

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