10 Cloverfield Lane

Recently, on a weekend night at Walmart, in a one of those big, bargain movie bins (the one’s that have movies overflowing to the top, spilling onto the floor as you try to find the one you want), I found a bluray copy of 10 Cloverfield Lane.  I’m not sure why I hadn’t watched the movie earlier.  Maybe it was because I heard it wasn’t really a sequel to Cloverfied; maybe it was because the reviews were mixed, or maybe I was just too busy to think about movies at the time.  Who knows!  But, at $4.99 (the deal on the “roll back” happy-face sign), I couldn’t resist taking the chance.  Heck!  At that price, it wasn’t worth the time to think twice.  But, at the self checkout, of course, it scanned for more–$9.99.  Whoa!  Way too much!  A question to the manager informs me that the movie had been put in the wrong place, and it really was $9.99  (“It happens all the time, she says.”)  But, “It was there, in the $4.99 bin, and I took time finding it” (and putting back all those other movies that fell on the floor).  Alas, with no argument, I got it for $4.99.  No!  I didn’t expect to get it for less, and I didn’t ask for it.  But, I got it anyway.  Maybe I looked like a nice guy that day and got a break.  Maybe it was all fate.  Without whatever it was, I wouldn’t have written this review.  I also would have missed out on what turned out to be one seriously-good horror/sci-fi/suspense/thriller of a movie.  Plus, I wouldn’t have had this great story to tell you either.  Imagine that!

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the ever-skeptical Michelle, in 10 Cloverfield Lane

Back to the movie, it begins with an upset young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), getting her things together, minimal as they are, planning a fast getaway from her boyfriend.  (Is that also a foreboding tremor shaking that photo of her and said boyfriend on the table, suggesting something worse than relationship troubles ahead?)  On the way down the road to who knows where, she ignores a call from her now insignificant other; that’s when things get really bad…phase I of it, that is!  No, I’m not telling what happens.  But next, she wakes up strapped down on a makeshift bed, in a room that looks more like a jail cell, soon listening to the footsteps of someone rather large on his way.

“You need to eat, you need to sleep, and you need to start showing me a little more appreciation around here!” ~ Howard

If this is all starting to sound really intriguing, that’s because it is.  That’s also exactly how 10 Cloverfield Lane is from beginning to end, with more twists and turns than a lab-rat maze for smarter rodents.  The movie mostly takes place in the confines of an underground bunker, with only three characters and a few rooms.  But alas, watching people play board games, watch movies, eat and look for privacy in tight quarters is only a fraction of what you will see here.  Yes!  10 Cloverfield Lane (directed by Dan Trachtenberg) is a masterpiece of a character-driven story, fueled by more suspense, mystery, and nail-biting tension than several movies of its kind put together.  It’s a very tight story, efficiently told, and unpredictable to the end!  Yes!  Limited board games and the need for privacy will be the least of your worries here!

Harold (John Goodman), Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) enjoy a night of games in the bunker…or do they?

“What is all of this suspense and mystery about?” you ask.  Let’s consider how you would feel in the situation described so far, topped off with an end-of-the-world story like no other; in this scenario, as you are told, you are much better off being in a bunker, possibly for years…with two strangers!  Let’s consider an even more unbelievable invasion story you are told (yes, it gets even worse), and how you should also be thankful for being “saved.”  Yes!  How dare you be so disrespectful as to think normally in this situation!  It’s just this collection of “what if” possibilities that director Dan Trachtenburg said makes such a great story.  Oh, how correct he is!

“People are strange creatures. You can’t always convince them that safety is in their best interest.” ~ Howard

Ultimately, 10 Cloverfield Lane poses a very intelligent question that will make viewers consider options to no avail, raising tension levels ever higher.  As the tagline for the movie says, “Monsters come in many forms.”  So, what exactly are monsters, and what are their “many forms” here?  What is the worst of monsters, when more than one threatens you?  Is a monster on the outside worse than a monster on the inside?  When, exactly, do you have enough evidence to really know something, rather than just think it…about monsters or anything else?  Yes!  It is the ever-prolific Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who famously wrote, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”  Here, are the “facts” really as obvious as they seem?  As viewers watch the main character, Michelle, come to conclusions, they are likely to also think as she does.  Who wouldn’t?  It’s all too obvious.  Or, is it?

Oh no! What is Harold (John Goodman) about to do with that vat of acid?

Am I being too cryptic?  Maybe.  The problem with 10 Cloverfield Lane is only with reviewing it.  I never like to include spoilers, or at least any more information than is necessary to write a good review.  This is one, if ever there was one, that is all the better watched with only the most basic of information known in advance.  Let’s just say that things are never really known until the end…or so it seems.

“You people. You wear helmets when you ride bikes…seatbelts in cars… alarm systems to protect your home… But what happens when those alarms come? … Crazy is building an ark after the flood.” ~ Howard

In an interview on the bluray, John Goodman said that his role as Harold (the builder and owner of the bunker) was one of the easiest he’s ever played, because the character is so much like he is himself.  True to what he says, Goodman almost “walks through it,” as they say, but not in a bad way.  He plays the role of Harold effortlessly, as if he is just being himself, mundane, yet revealing the character as multi-dimensional and complex, nonetheless–something only a great actor like Goodman could do.  Harold is quiet and even fatherly when he is not upset, but suddenly sinister and dangerous other times.  Goodman is so good portraying both extremes that it is all the more startling and effective, as a contrast throughout.  A look on his face can mean many things, with his character’s unpredictable actions having the final say.  Waiting for those actions are moments of great suspense.  Without Goodman’s awesome performance, 10 Cloverfield Lane would be something less than 10, most certainly.

The ever-resourceful Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) looking for a way out! No, she’s not taking a selfie!

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs The World) is as perfect as anyone I can imagine in the role of Michelle.  She is as skeptical as anyone would be in such a situation, and very convincing doing so; she is unable to believe things at first, but susceptible to the “facts” as they seem…and as they change.  Michelle is as tough as she must be to save her life, even though she, as most of us, doesn’t live such a life in danger every day.  She’s smart, creative and courageous, more than once fighting off a meltdown when things get crazy.  No.  I never once thought that Winstead wasn’t exactly this type of person herself, as she played Michelle.  Like Goodman, she makes her character most believable, natural and pragmatic, in a movie with scenarios that seem fictional to us as well as her.  This is a point of very effective tension between her character’s personality and the events that surround her.

“How do you know that this is real?” ~ Michelle

Further kudos goes to the continuity person for making sure Michelle stays barefoot throughout the bunker scenes, which is ninety percent of the movie.  Yes!  Continuity–particularly with feet–is very important, showing that people on the set are truly on the ball with the minutia of the movie.  Many otherwise high-budget films alternate between shoes and no shoes on an actor, in the same scene.  (I’m thinking of this in The Jewell of the Nile, with Kathleen Turner.)  10 Cloverfield Lane does not make such ill-shod mistakes.  There is even a prolonged, closeup shot of MIchelle’s bare feet, at one point, as she walks out of her room in the bunker.  The pointed focus on her feet causes greater suspense, at a time when anything could happen out of our visual field, elsewhere.  The viewer is forced to concentrate on something inconsequential like feet, at a time when their mind is occupied elsewhere.  Quentin Tarantino, I think, would enjoy this movie, since he regularly (in almost all of his movies) showcases women who remain barefoot for extended periods of time.  As a clever cinematic effect (if not inspired by a foot fetish as well), Tarantino also masterfully uses closeups of women’s feet to isolate viewer perspective in strategic, albeit ironic places (I’m really thinking of Deathproof and Sydney Tamiia Poitier right now.)  In 10 Cloverfield Lane, one such foot focus was nice; but, more would have been even nicer!

Yes! The continuity with Michelle’s bare feet continues…just at it should.

John Gallagher Jr. plays the part of Emmett–a good balance between Harold and Michelle. He helps to relieve some of the tension Michelle would otherwise be more compelled to feel (and react to) as a smart woman, with only Harold telling an unbelievable story.  Gallagher is very convincing and authentic as the simple, honest country boy.  He’s what you might call a gentleman farmer who is, even with his lesser education, also smart enough not to be fooled (unless, as with Michelle, by the “obvious facts”).  Unlike Michelle, Emmett has (or so he says) asked Harold to be in the bunker for shelter from the apocalypse, providing early credibility for Harold’s story.  If Gallagher did not portray Emmett so well, with such believability, the tone of the movie would be altered, making the film something different.  Winstead would, otherwise, with the intelligence of her character, have been forced to take a more suspicious position earlier, lessening the buildup of suspense, thus diminishing the movie overall.  Yes!  10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that relies heavily on the success of all three actors playing their parts as proficiently as they do to make it all work so well.  An awesome performance by Goodman, Winstead and Gallagher is just the ground-zero impact needed…and it is delivered here with a full payload!

Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) discuss the facts, as they know them.

What is really happening on 10 Cloverfield Lane–that address that suggests a sequel to another, but isn’t?  Is there really an apocalypse outside the bunker, with an end-of-the-world scenario to impress H.G. Wells?  Is it more dangerous outside than inside, or vice versa?  Whatever happened to Megan?  Is there really a serial killer in the bunker, or are the “facts,” as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says, too obvious to be true?  What’s all that noise above the bunker?  Have the Russians launched another volly of nukes, or have the Martians beaten them to it?  Will Michelle live to see another day and fight monsters in Houstion?  Can’t everyone just apologize, get along and, finally, live as one big, happy family?  Do monsters really watch movies like Pretty in Pink, and will Michelle stay barefoot in a sequel?  Do you really want to see 10 Cloverfield Lane now and find out?  Of course you do!  Will you get the answers to all of these question, if you do?  I’m not  telling.

“Cut out the noise up there. We’re having dinner down here!” And yes, Michelle is still barefoot!

Are there more such unanswered questions in 10 Cloverfield Lane?  Oh yes!  There are many.  But here, that is very good thing.  Part of the movie’s success is in the mysteries that remain, after the story is over–the ulterior motives, the stories within the story, the before and after.  Would ALIEN have ever been so great without the questions it left us: the identity of the space jockey, the origins of the derelict ship, the purpose of those face-hugging xenomorphs?  No.  Unanswered questions do, indeed, not make a bad move or a movie less satisfying.  If done well, they instead make a greater movie, enduring in the minds of viewers, prompting discussions and wonder, and (maybe) create a classic.  Is 10 Cloverfield Lane a classic?  Only time will tell.

The unpredictable, ever-pensive Harold (John Goodman) with more than dinner on his mind.

Is 10 Cloverfield Lane a sequel to the 2008 namesake, Cloverfield?  While opinions are mixed, most connect the movies in mostly superficial ways.  The biggest plausable stretch is that the events in Cloverfield are occurring at the same time as those in 10 Cloverfield Lane, albeit in different places.  While that is possible, there is absolutely no evidence I can find to support even this in the films.  All we really have that is certain is the occurrence of the name Cloverfield in both titles.  Directer Dan Trachtenberg himself explained, “It didn’t have that title, but when J.J. came up with the title ‘10 Cloverfield Lane,’ I thought it was genius because that name sounds like a Twilight Zone episode, and this movie is like one giant Twilight Zone episode.”  Producer J.J. Abrams, who worked on both films concurred that the new film isn’t a true sequel, but more of a “spiritual successor” to Cloverfield.  While those facts are straight from the source’s mouth (so to speak), it will never stop those who seek greater connections from doing so.  In the end, doesn’t it just add more to the mystery?  Of course!

Inside or outside? That is the question!

I waited two whole weeks to even think about watching 10 Cloverfield Lane, after I bought it.  Now, I wish I’d had the theater experience viewing it–in IMAX, the one with deluxe recliners, wide isles, and enhanced stadium seating (Yes! I’m spoiled, and thank god stadium seating is now even better!)  I at least wish I had bought the movie way back, much longer ago, and watched it earlier.  But, finally, at $4.99, I got the bluray and a digital VUDU copy too!  What more can anyone ask for?  Perhaps a box of popcorn would be nice, buttered and hot!

However it’s seen, 10 Cloverfield Lane is one roller-coaster ride of a sci-fi/suspense thriller not to be missed, even though it isn’t a true sequel to Cloverfield.  Sooner or later, owned or rented, via theater or big-screen TV, you must see it.   At SJR, no apocalypse comes more highly recommended!  With monsters inside and out, what will you do?

Rocket Rating – 9

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