Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Loud Feedback Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane Proves That Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

By Jeff Feuerhaken

Looking at today’s action/sci-fi cinematic landscape, it’s clear that the recipe for success hinges on the notion that bigger equals better. Most of the big tentpole blockbusters you see in the summer (and increasingly in other seasons, as well) feature seemingly unstoppable villains facing even more unstoppable heroes in epic battles for nothing less than the fate of all mankind. It’s an issue of stakes. Once we’ve seen a film in which all life as we know it hangs in the balance as our hero attempts to overcome all odds, any circumstances less than utter global annihilation risks seeming small and inconsequential. At least that’s the way the studios seem to think, with each new movie villain even bigger and badder and fighting battles that ravage entire cities, leaving unprecedented destruction in its wake. I get the logic behind this. Films feel the need to improve upon what preceded them, and this is often done by going bigger and bolder, throwing even greater challenges and obstacles out there for the protagonist to overcome. Otherwise, they’d just be taking a step backward, right? Well, this may not necessarily be the case. As the new sci-fi suspense thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane illustrates, sometimes intimacy and downsizing can be just as compelling as bigger and bolder.

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Which is safer, inside or out?

10 Cloverfield Lane centers on three characters, 80% of the movie takes place in the same confined space, but not once during the entire film did I feel like what I was watching was trite or unimportant. Much of that hinges on the compelling mystery that propels the plot. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is involved in a brutal car accident out in the country after leaving town following a fight with her boyfriend (yep, that’s Bradley Cooper’s voice on the phone). She wakes to find herself chained and locked up in a creepy cellar, where she meets Howard (John Goodman), a quirky doomsday prepper who explains that he’s keeping her in order to protect her from the fallout of some catastrophic event which rendered the outside air toxic and unbreathable. Dubious of Howard’s intentions, Michelle makes plans for her escape, but puts them on hold after meeting Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), another refugee who claims that not only is Howard telling the truth about the attacks, but that he saw it happen with his own eyes. What follows is a classic suspense mystery in which Michelle (and the viewer) try to piece together what really happened and separate the facts from the fiction, all while maintaining a docile facade in a situation that grows increasingly volatile.

What really sells the suspense of this film are the acting performances. We all know John Goodman is capable of amazing things, but his performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane should be placed on the pantheon of his all time bests. Goodman’s Howard is an unhinged loose cannon, an authoritarian hopelessly out of touch with the rest of humanity. The world as it exists after this major cataclysmic event is one in which he thrives, likely one in which he had secretly been wishing for. It’s a my-house-my-rules type scenario, and he makes it clear that his expertise and authority are not things to be questioned. As Michelle gets closer and closer to discovering the truth, so does Howard become more and more unpredictable. In this way, his character is terrifying, and in a way that’s much more convincing than your usual mustache-twirling movie villain. The protagonist, Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is part-damsel in distress and part badass, which is another turn from typical genre character conventions. Her performance is remarkable, and essentially on par with Goodman’s, which makes for a highly engaging chess match of wits. John Gallagher’s Emmett adds authenticity as an aw-shucks good ol’ boy, and his monologue about standing in the way of his own ambition is probably something many of us can relate to. The end result of these fantastic performances is empathy, and that’s what kept me on a razor’s edge waiting to see what was going to happen next.

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John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth WInstead deliver exceptional acting performances

My only complaint about this film is its terribly disjointed third act. I realize that the tonal shift was very likely the filmmakers’ intention, and it’s hard to talk about it without getting into spoilers here, but I feel that the film’s ending funneled it into the category of typical sci-fi fare. It provided an interesting, and perhaps even earned, answer to the question the film had been asking all along, but by doing so, it somehow seemed to undermine the tone and character of the first two acts of the film, which were refreshingly unique and unconventional. The director, Dan Trachtenberg, is not yet a household name, and unless you’ve seen his excellent short film based on the Portal video game, you probably haven’t heard of him. This is likely to change, because he has done an excellent job with 10 Cloverfield Lane, which is essentially his directorial debut. He was able to pull some phenomenal performances from his actors, create a compelling mystery, and due to the film more than doubling its modest 13 million budget on its first weekend, I’m sure we’ll see more from him in the future.

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First time director Dan Trachtenberg sets the scene

I predict that many filmgoers will take exception to the fact that 10 Cloverfield Lane, despite its name, is not a sequel to 2008’s excellent found-footage monster movie, Cloverfield. It’s actually more of a spiritual successor, a story that likely takes place in the same cinematic universe but has no direct connection to the original. Both of these films were produced by J.J. Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, and both were kept tightly under wrap during production. The spoiler-free marketing also ensured that most moviegoers would come into the film not knowing exactly what to expect, which is unfortunately rare in this day and age. In this situation, it was worth it. The film’s ambiguity is its greatest asset. I highly recommend any fan of whodunits and psychological thrillers to go check out 10 Cloverfield Lane. There’s a lot to like here, even if the whole universe isn’t necessarily at stake. Or is it?…

Score: 6/8 stars

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