10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)
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I’m not a big fan of the found footage, monster movie darling that is Cloverfield. It had some cool FX and the monster stuff was entertaining, but the acting was poor, the characters were super annoying and the shaky-cam way over-done. Now we have 10 Cloverfield Lane which may…or may not, be related to that film.
The story finds pretty Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) running away from her engagement and getting into a car accident in the middle of nowhere. She awakens to find herself in some kind of bomb shelter, her wounds treated, but apparently a prisoner of a man who introduces himself as Howard (John Goodman). Howard tells her he was on his way home when he found her and that there has been some kind of attack. Everyone outside the shelter is probably dead and the only way she and another ‘guest’ Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.) are going to survive, is if they remain in the shelter with him. Michelle thinks he’s crazy, though there is compelling evidence to believe something has occurred outside in the world. Yet every time she starts to believe that there may be some truth to his claims, she discovers something that may also indicate that Howard is a psychopath and she and Emmet’s lives may be in grave danger. Where does the true danger lie?…outside…or locked inside with the possibly unstable Howard?
I won’t say if this is truly connected to Cloverfield or not, but will say you will be getting a very entertaining and suspenseful thriller from the script by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damiene Chazelle. The film is tensely and atmospherically directed by Dan Trachtenberg and really keeps us guessing as to whether Howard is really a looney or are Michelle and Emmet the two luckiest people at the end of the world. We get hints that something awful has happened above ground and yet every-time we start to believe Howard, we get thrown another clue that he may indeed be off his rocker. Which is it, savior or psychopath? Did he really rescue Michelle, or was he actually the cause of her accident? It’s a fun movie and Trachtenberg makes good use of his claustrophobic setting of the bomb shelter with the characters inside appearing to bond and yet being very suspicious of their host. Michelle never really comes to trust Howard, even when she sees direct evidence that danger may actually lurk outside the airlocks. It’s almost a cat and mouse game between the two, as she plots various escapes and yet Howard always seems to be one step ahead or able to cast doubt on what awaits outside. It’s actually very entertaining for a movie that takes place 90% in such a confined space. There is some clever dialog, a dark sense of humor and we are delightfully kept guessing till the final moments as to whether Howard is psycho or hero…and the answer still may not be what you expect. What is less surprising is what we finally get once we get back to the outside world. It wasn’t as impressive as the suspenseful build-up deserved. It’s kind of been done before and while it is well done and entertaining, it’s still a little disappointing.
What really makes this flick click so well are the performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead once again proves she is a terribly underrated actress and gives a great performance as Michelle. Winstead paints a portrait of a gusty, resilient young woman and makes really good use of the depth the script gives her. Michelle is a really smart and strong heroine for us to root for and Winstead makes her a good match for Howard. As Howard, Goodman is not far behind performance-wise. He is really good at keeping us guessing whether the man is eccentric friend or dangerous foe. He makes Howard really likable and a bit sympathetic at times and then menacing and downright scary at others. He and Winstead play off each other well and we look forward to the confrontation we know this is all leading to. Our third cast member John Gallagher Jr. is likable as the simple but kind Emmet. He basically gets caught in the middle between the domineering and strange Howard and the ever distrusting Michelle. He’s a far more trusting sort than she is and also believes he saw something going on before begging Howard to let him in. Gallagher plays well Emmet’s desire to believe both his companions, though Michelle is wearing him down despite his also believing that something is amiss above ground. Excellent work by a very good cast.
Overall, I liked this thriller a lot. It was suspenseful, clever, well-acted and did deliver…something…when all is said and done. Whether using the word Cloverfield in the title is simply a marketing ploy, or if this flick is a distant cousin of that popular flick, is irrelevant. This is a highly entertaining thriller that keeps you guessing and gives some strong characters to pit against each other in a battle of wills that may…or may not…be between the last people on Earth. There is also some strong cinematography by Jeff Cutter and a great score by Bear McCreary to add to the atmosphere the film has.
3 and 1/2 amazing actresses.