Reel Talk

10 Cloverfield Lane: 95% of a Great Movie

Cloverfield Lane

Back in college my friends and I went to check out this mysterious new monster movie called Cloverfield, anxious to see if it would usher in a new age of giant monster flicks. Unfortunately that movie did absolutely nothing for me. I have yet to see a found-footage movie that I found even remotely interesting, and this one sure didn’t do break that record. It ended up being a remarkably dull movie that just plodded around for a while with a bunch of immensely unlikable characters, wishing they would be picked off by the blurry, ill-designed monster that was attacking New York. It was a dud of a movie, and honestly the thing that worked best for it was the marketing and side-material, which added all the interesting world-building and background that the movie seemed determined to avoid. Which kind of made me assume there were going to be more Cloverfield movies to come, which would tackle the premise from different points of view, which honestly could have been a really interesting idea. But no, Cloverfield faded away and I guess that universe died. That is until just a couple months ago we suddenly heard about a mysterious movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane, which really baffled everyone. JJ Abrams was producing again and it had the word Cloverfield in the title, so was this related to the previous movie in any way? Some kind of continuation of the first movie? Nope, it was it’s own thing, and I really don’t understand the reason for putting Cloverfield in the title, unless they’re planning on doing the least thought-out anthology series ever, which only has an installment once ever decade. But, for the most part, it was a really good movie.

The film was actually a very interesting, tense, and claustrophobic thriller that really exceeded all of my expectations, especially compared to Cloverfield. We follow Michelle (played the the pretty much always amazing Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who starts off the movie in the process of leaving her fiancee. She packs a bag and hops in her car, anxious to get out of town. But when she gets in the middle of nowhere she starts getting calls from her fiance, and becomes really distracted. And that gets worse when her radio starts talking about strange electrical occurrences happening in the Eastern Seaboard. And while zoning out, she get’s struck by a car in a shockingly intense scene. And when she wakes up she finds that her leg is injured, she has an IV attached, and she appears to be handcuffed in a strange, unfamiliar cell. Which is probably the worst thing you could wake up to after a car accident. She then finds that she was saved by a man named Howard (played the the tremendous John Goodman, who puts in a remarkable performance unlike anything I’ve ever seen from him) who has patched her together and brought her to his weird bunker under his farm. Why? Because there was apparently some weird attack right after her car crash, and Howard brought her there to save her life. What was the attack? Who knows, they suppose it could be nuclear, chemical, or even extraterrestrial, since Howard is clearly insane. So that’s fun, she’s trapped in a fallout shelter with a weird lunatic!

But it’s not just Howard, there’s also a guy named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr, who I’m not familiar with, but did a great job) who lived in the area and actually helped Howard make the shelter. He’s a pretty normal guy, and actually confirms to Michelle that he did see some sort of attack. The three have a tense couple of scenes where no one is sure what to make of each other, while Michelle is desperately trying to find a way to escape. Which ends up working, and she runs up to the entrance of the shelter with Howard’s keys, fully intending to escape. Now, by now I assumed that that there wasn’t actually going to be something wrong outside, and that Howard was just crazy, which seemed a little obvious. But shockingly when she gets to the entrance she finds a woman trying to get in, who clearly is dying from something horrible, and who is desperate to escape whatever is going on outside and get in their safe bunker. This shocks Michelle, who then  breaks down, and ends up accepting her situation. The three then actually start getting along, becoming a twisted little family.

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But their awkward happiness starts falling apart when their air filtration system runs into an issue, and Michelle has to climb through the air-vents to get to it. She does, and when doing so encounters another padlocked exit, which has an ominous message of “Help” scratched into the window, along with a bloody earring. She gets back to the shelter, and talks with Emmett about Howard, and after some sleuthing they start to realize that Howard may be a serial killer. Which isn’t exactly a desirable type of person to be locked in a bunker with. So they begin coming up with a plan to make a gas mask in order to survive once they escape, and plan their mutiny. Unfortunately Howard figures their plan out and confronts the two about it. And in an act of heroism Emmett takes full responsibility, which ends with Howard shooting him in the head, and dissolving the body in some acid he has, which is totally not something a serial killer does. And with Emmett out of the way, Howard ups his creepiness, which spurs Michelle on to escape on her own. She fights with Howard, and ends up burning him with the acid, and escaping up into the air-vents. Howard tries to fight back, starting to look more and more like Two-Face, but in the end she’s able to escape, and get out into the world.

And this is exactly where the movie should have ended. Up until now it was a really tense and exciting thriller. The idea of being trapped in a bunker with a man who becomes crazier and crazier is a fascinating and terrifying one. This movie really had me on the edge of my seat for most of it, and was also shocking funny at times. All three actors knocked it out of the damned park, and the movie kept getting more and more interesting. It was like a horror-movie bottle episode, full of mystery, scares, and great characterization. The movie was a thrilling little flick, and honestly I think the best ending possible would have been to have Michelle get out, and be surprised and confused that she could breathe, and pretty much end it there. Let us wonder. Maybe show a couple of the geese she sees flying die, but not all of them, just adding to some weird mystery that we can puzzle over for months after. But is that what happened? Nope! She does get outside, and ends up finding that there’s breathable air, which is confusing. But then, she finds out what caused the attack. Aliens! Seriously. A goddamn spaceship show up, Michelle has to fight with an alien, and she ends up blowing up the spaceship. She then starts driving away before hearing a radio broadcast that calls for people brave enough to fight the aliens to head to Houston where there’s a battle happening so she does.

Yep. That’s how this movie ends. In like the last fifteen minutes the movie took an absurd left turn and ends up completely changing genres. Up until that ending the movie had been extremely enjoyable. It was a crazy little psychological thriller, unlike anything I had seen before. The idea of being trapped, in a place you can’t escape, with a person who gets progressively crazier and may be a serial killer is a truly terrifying one, and it worked wonderfully. I went in with pretty damned low expectations, mainly because I was worried the movie was going to link up with Cloverfield somehow, which had the potential to tank even a wonderful movie. And luckily, the movie didn’t try to tie itself with that turd, but it came close. That ending did everything it could to destroy the previous wonderful hour and a half, but it didn’t completely succeed. It certainly knocked the movie down a couple pegs in my book, but it didn’t attempt to tie Cloverfield in throughout the movie, systematically ruining it. Instead, it became a wonderful movie that completely fell apart in the last fifteen minutes by becoming a stupid alien action flick. So I would recommend the movie, a lot, but honestly this movie is going to fall into a category like Speilberg’s A.I. where it’s a perfectly enjoyable movie up until a point, and it’s generally agreed that you should just turn it off at a certain point. And that’s how I feel 10 Cloverfield Lane will be remembered. It’s a really wonderful movie, that should be turned off as soon as Michelle gets out of the bunker. We don’t need to know what’s outside the bunker. The mystery is way better than the stupid, stupid answer.

10 Cloverfield Lane was written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken and Damien Chazelle, directed by Dan Trachtenburg, and released by Paramount Pictures, 2016.

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