Saturday, March 12, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane - A Sequel in Name Only

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle.  Produced by J. J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber. Color. USA. Science Fiction, Thriller, Horror

If you saw Cloverfield (2008) and hoped there would be a sequel (why?), then it is not, in more ways than one. The films are tied together in name only and by the behind the scenes presence of J. J. Abrams. While Cloverfield was a dumb plot driven by poor decisions by the main characters, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a much more psychological thriller, tied in with a sci-fi horror storyline.

There is an Independence Day (1996) meets War of the Worlds (1953) meets Psycho (1960) plot. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up after a car crash in an end-of-the-world bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman). The only other person there is Emmitt (John Gallagher, Jr.), a simple guy who helped build the bunker. Not sure how she got there or what’s going on, Michelle learns that Howard has saved her from death. Emmitt, who, unlike her, is happy to be there, had to fight his way in.

Things are never as they seem in 10 Cloverfield Lane. From left to right:
Howard (John Goodman), Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmitt (John Gallagher, Jr.)

Michelle is only told enough to make her suspicious of Howard’s story, but everything he has told her is shown to be right, but also very wrong. To tell more would be to give away too much.

While I have now seen Cloverfield three times, four if you count the Riff Trax version, I’m not a fan of the original. And no, it didn’t take me three viewings to come to that conclusion, but sometimes you watch bad movies for what they are. In that film, the plot is constantly driven forward by irrational decisions and every choice made seems to get the protagonists in deeper and deeper. While the found video concept was new, it was not innovative and it is not enough to save the film. Sense runs out long before the movie is over. You come to hate the leads and their deaths are a cathartic comeuppance.

10 Cloverfield Lane keeps you wondering and guessing throughout and while you root for Michelle, you hope that her suspicions prove correct and are not without merit. I will admit, I wanted to see the film for the lead, Winstead, whom has proven herself to be an engaging screen presence in such films as Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and the very underrated Scott Pilgrim (2010), in which she was the object of Scott’s desire, as well as her seven exes’ revenge. I went in liking her and left more impressed.

Much of the drama lies in the relationship between Howard
and Michelle. Is he a savior or villain? Or a little of both?

John Goodman’s acting is hard to miss as it seems he appears in two to three films a year. In this film, Howard is a very complex fellow, as smart as he is crazy. This allows Goodman to showcase his range. In the hands of a lesser talent, Howard would not be as compelling as he is.

Emmitt is really caught between the strong wills of Michelle and Howard. While he readily believes everything Howard has told him, he is not above being convinced by Michelle that there is more going on. While I’m sure I’ve seen John Gallagher, Jr. in some of his previous films, Whatever Works (2009) comes to mind, this is the first time I can remember his work. He is a good actor and will no doubt get a career boost from this role.

Production values were good, but one has to imagine that production costs were kept pretty reasonable as ninety percent of the action takes place in one space. Profits will no doubt come quickly. There are some fairly impressive special effects, but they are mercifully kept to a minimum. Most of the strength of the film comes from the acting. You have to give Dan Trachtenberg some credit in his debut as a director that he let his actors carry the work.

I was amused that there were two casting directors listed in the credits, when there were only three main characters and three minor ones. Bradley Cooper does some voice work, but his talent is somewhat wasted here as anyone could have done it and his voice wasn’t recognizable.

Since most of the action takes place in an underground bunker, 10 Cloverfield Lane may not be for anyone who is claustrophobic. But if the first Cloverfield did not totally sour you on the name, then you might enjoy this genre-bending film. Unlike the first, I look forward to the inevitable third bite at the Cloverfield apple, that success at the boxoffice will surely bring, especially if Mary Elizabeth Winstead is featured.

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