Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane
(Rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language)
Ever since he came on the scene, writer/producer/director JJ Abrams has strongly made it clear to the public, of his love of “Mystery Box” films.
At a TED Talk in 2008, Abrams explained that his thought process, was the concept of making the audience “think” they know what they’re getting, but it isn’t “exactly” what they’re getting.
Abrams’ Bad Robot production company has produced only a handful of films since its inception, though one stood out in 2008: Cloverfield, which took the concept of “found footage” beyond the typical Blair Witch Project retreads, and tried to throw its audience into the midst of a real-time disaster scenario.
Since it came out, many had wondered if we’d ever have anymore to do with the world and events we saw on the screen. Rumors persisted for years, but Abrams and his guys weren’t saying anything.
And then in February of this year, a mysterious trailer hit, and after a quick succession of images (accompanied by the song I Think We’re Alone Now), a familiar word appeared on the screen, along with a few others…and a release date, less than a month away!
After leaving her home, a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) experiences a car crash out in the countryside.
When she comes to, she finds herself in a fallout shelter, with two men.
One of them is Howard (John Goodman), who tells her that dire circumstances above, have led him to taking her into his shelter.
The other is Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr), who happens to know John, and came to him when he witnessed something he cannot quite describe.
Michelle is eager to get out of the shelter, but Howard claims it’s no use: noone is alive outside, and his radio has picked up no signals. Just what could have caused this to happen, Howard has his theories, but nothing concrete…just the assurance that staying where they are, is for the best.
However, as time continues, Michelle begins to question her surroundings, as well as her new “friends.”
Within the first minutes of 10 Cloverfield Lane, it becomes pretty apparent that the film is ‘a different beast’ than the 2008 film that shares part of its name.
The shaky-cam is pretty much gone, and in its place, is a film…well, shot like an actual film!
Very quickly, Winstead’s Michelle becomes our eyes and ears, and as soon as she awakens from her accident, it feels like we’re unsure of just what we’ve stumbled into.
Winstead it often feels, is more memorable in her supporting roles than main ones. Unlike some actresses, she has a sense of ‘ordinariness’ that often helps make her seem believable, and it definitely helps in a film of this scale.
The situation and story of Lane could very well have fallen into low-budget, B-movie mediocrity, but strangely enough, the film manages to hold itself together quite well.
Director Dan Trachtenberg, seems to find his inspiration for much of the film’s storytelling devices, harkening back to the era of the 50’s and 60’s.
There’s definitely hints of Alfred Hitchcock here, but for me, the majority of the film felt like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone.
It wasn’t uncommon for Rod Serling’s anthology series to throw people together into unexplained circumstances, and Lane very quickly reminded me of episodes such as The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, and Five Characters Searching For an Exit.
Even the film’s title sequence gets in on the retro bandwagon, as portions of the white-on-black text, begin to stretch and expand, just like in the grand tradition of Saul Bass’ title sequences.
Of all the actors in the film, the one that will surely stand out for many, is John Goodman’s portrayal of Howard. Many of us can recall Goodman playing characters that may be a little gruff, a little funny, maybe a little bit of both…but Howard is a whole different ballgame.
A man who speaks only when necessary, this character is one that will make you question just what is going on behind those eyes most of the time. Howard isn’t big on speeches, and his silence makes for some of the film’s tensest moments.
Jake Gallagher Jr’s Emmett is pretty much the third-wheel of the group, but he manages to waver between seeming like a bumpkin, and also having some smarts. In a way, he’ll probably remind a few people of Donny from The Big Lebowski, given the way Goodman eyes him a few times.
Where the movie falls short, is somewhere in its third act. It is here that the film gives its audience a choice, and how you choose, will decide fully on how far down the rabbit hole you’ve chosen to go. Some will take the blue pill for sure, while others, will go for the red pill.
After seeing the film, it almost feels like Cloverfield-related films, could be seen as Abrams’ testing ground for up-and-coming filmmakers. The first film was directed by Matt Reeves, and since then, Reeves has directed films like Let Me In, and the follow-ups to the recent Planet of the Apes series.
Even with proven directors out there, in the past few years, we’ve been seeing a lot of “young” directors beginning to climb the ladder to bigger pictures (such as Colin Trevorrow, and Rian Johnson). Given what unspooled with this film, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if 10 Cloverfield Lane served as a calling card for director Dan Trachtenberg, to take him onto bigger projects in the future (though hopefully, nothing like what was wrought on Josh Trank with Fantastic Four).
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: “10 Cloverfield Lane” is less about handheld filmmaking, and more about framing and tension, in the grand style of situational storytelling from the past. The minimal cast manages to keep the film from getting boring, with John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the main casting highlights. The film allows the audience to use their brains and draw their own conclusions quite a few times, but it may test the limits on how much the audience is willing to believe)