It’s not like this movie is horrifically old or anything, but I’m certainly not here talking about it immediately upon its theatrical release. But I’d heard that 10 Cloverfield Lane had hit our local dollar theater here in San Antonio (which, by the way, those tickets have gone up to $2.75, what the heck is up with that?). That’s typically the perfect opportunity for anybody to see a movie before it hits home release for a pretty decent price, if you didn’t manage to catch it during its main run in normal theaters. Of course, this theater is also great for recent Bollywood movies, but really, that’s not really relevant to this topic.
For those unaware, this movie directed by Dan Trachtenberg and produced by J.J. Abrams features a woman by the name of Michelle played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead who ends up in a car accident after running away from her relationship with her fiance. When she wakes up after her accident, she’s trapped in a room inside a personal fallout bunker with an uncomfortable man by the name of Howard played by John Goodman who swears that some kind of major attack has occurred and that he’s keeping her down in the bunker to save her life. Soon they’re joined semi-forcefully by a third bunkermate by the name of Emmett played by John Gallagher, Jr., who confirms that some strange kind of attack is going on outside and that they’re safer in the bunker than they are outside. Despite all this, Michelle doesn’t necessarily believe everything that Howard tells them. As time goes on, Michelle (and thus the audience) begins to learn that some things Howard says are true, but some other things he says are a little less than true. Ultimately, it becomes a fight to get away from Howard’s control in the underground bunker and to find out what exactly has happened to the outside world.
I came out of the movie with very few complaints.
The film has great acting which is exemplified by the fact that there’s really only a major cast of three people that we ever see on screen. These three actors have to hold the weight of the movie on their shoulders. I imagine that there’s a hunk of my audience that my only know Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or know her best, as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but clearly over time she has proven to be a very versatile actress capable of being varied with her performances, and this movie has her written as a woman who is put into several positions that older Hollywood movies might have loved to exploit in order to portray her as a victim. The character of Michelle is escaping a relationship that clearly had some issues that we never actually get elaborated upon, and she gets kidnapped by a strange man and kept in a bunker against her will. But this is also a woman who had the guts to leave whatever was ruining her relationship (although there’s some lines that suggest she has a history of simply running away from her problems), and was able to slowly build up strength and courage to be active in her fight against her captor (and later on the new terrors in the outside world). Even if she was once a character who ran away from all of her problems, despite the fact that nearly the entirety of the movie is only seen inside this fallout bunker, we see Michelle grow as a character and become a strong-willed person who is willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
John Goodman, as usual, is a gifted actor. From comedian in Roseanne, to loud and off his rocker in The Big Lebowski, and here as a creepy personality type in 10 Cloverfield Lane, John Goodman is able to fill just about any role you could possibly give him. And in this one he does his job well, to the point where you know that you need to be questioning this character but you’re not sure to what extent. You realize that there’s some truth in his words, but there’s still something unsettling and not right about him. And despite what you ultimately see by the end of the film, when you find out what’s really going on outside, you begin to wonder who the biggest monster in the movie really was the whole time.
John Gallagher, Jr. is unfortunately someone I’ve never seen in his other theatrical or television performances. However, after this movie I’d be more than willing to seek out his other performances. His role as Emmett is done pretty believably, and while he seems to only be a simple farm boy or labor worker, over the course of the movie you see him tell stories that show that he was somebody who once had big dreams and regrets, and like any other person, had fears that kept him from doing what he wanted to do before he ended up stuck inside the bunker. There’s also never a point in the movie where Emmett does not have his left arm in a sling after having forced his way inside the shelter. This puts him into a lot of creative scenarios where he can only use one hand, and really forces the character to use his brains in order to help Michelle accomplish an escape mission. You’re unsure about him at first, which makes sense because all of these characters are just sort of thrust upon you, but this character definitely grows on you.
The cinematography is quite good, and the focus it gives to what the character Michelle looks at and notices in her surroundings does an excellent job of bringing the audience up to speed with her thought process without having to say a word. There’s a moment where Michelle needs to crawl through an air vent in order to restart an air filtration system. The vent takes up the entirety of the movie’s frame and gives the character no wiggle room, and thus makes you feel like you also have no wiggle room. This image gave me intense claustrophobia by association, and despite the fact that it wasn’t the most perilous point in the movie, it did make my blood pressure rise a bit (although I also confess to being mildly claustrophobic to begin with).
Perhaps one of my few complains was in fact with the soundtrack. In many moments, it was well composed and really did do the right things. When Michelle, Howard, and Emmett are trying their best to live a relatively normal life down in the bunker, despite the fact that you know there are other underlying and intense problems, there’s popular music playing from a jukebox that gives great dissonance to the scenery. But early on in the movie, I couldn’t help but feel like there were parts where the soundtrack was just getting to loud, too brash, and too intense, way too early on in the film when things that were only so intense were happening. I know the music was trying to ramp up the tension, but I almost wonder if it would have generated better tension by simply dropping the soundtrack down to nothing at all and letting some little moments play out in silence.
And finally, it’s no secret that, if the name Cloverfield is in the title, you know there’s more to the movie than just the creepy and bizarre happenings inside the bunker. Clearly, something paranormal has happened outside, because for some reason this film is somehow associated with the 2008 film Cloverfield. Once you get to what’s actually going on outside of the bunker, the movie feels a little jarringly different. It feels like a completely different movie took over, which could have also been a good movie, just a different one. And to the best of my understanding, that’s because that’s exactly what happened during the production of this film, and you can absolutely tell where reshoots or additional shooting took place to turn this into the spiritual successor to Cloverfield. Thankfully, it’s a relatively minor complaint, and it doesn’t take up enough of the movie to make the additions that bizarre. The fact that the name Cloverfield is there at all will make you wonder about a few things. While this is not a direct sequel, it will leave you wondering whether or not it is in fact even in the same universe as the first film, or if the events of the first film even already happened or not. That’s never explained. Although you do see an advertisement for Slusho, the fictional faux-Slurpee drink that has appeared in other J.J. Abrams works, and was also previously featured in the world of Cloverfield. So perhaps it’s up to you, the viewer, to decide whether or not these worlds really are attached, or if these two films are more akin to more lengthy and violent episodes of The Twilight Zone in which bizarre stuff happens but no two stories are actually attached to one another.
Since this movie is at the end of its theatrical run, you can expect to see it on DVD and Blu Ray as soon as next month. It’s absolutely worth a single viewing, so I would highly encourage hitting up your local Redbox at the very least once 10 Cloverfield Lane hits shelves. While there is some science fiction involved, and while Cloverfield fans might also cross over into monster movie fandom, I don’t actually expect monster movie fans to be satisfied with this film. Don’t go into it expecting to see a monster movie per se. But even though nearly the entirety of the movie takes place inside this bunker, I think you’ll find the intrigue and the mystery of both the inside and the outside world to be a thrilling ride. I’m hoping for another movie within the Cloverfield universe, although I’m not hoping for a direct sequel to 10 Cloverfield Lane because, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand that a direct sequel would simply lead up to nothing but an all-out action flick, which is not something I’m interested in. Instead, I would hope for another story in another location featuring a different cast with a different set of problems, just like the difference between Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane.
I look forward to seeing what else comes out of this movie universe.