Sunday, March 13, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane tucks a taut little thriller away in a larger universe

The "web show" feels a concept from an completely different of the internet, especially given the rise of Youtube and vlog culture in this decade.  But it was only a few years ago that they were thriving, with entire networks hosting shows that got tons of viewers.  One of those networks was Revision3, which was responsible for bringing The Totally Rad Show into the world.  TRS was a show hosted by friends Alex Albrecht, Jeff Cannata, and Dan Trachtenberg, where they reviewed movies, TV shows, video games, and comics.  It was a pretty seminal work of my adolescent years -- something about its savvy insight and friendly riffing really made an impact on me as a young pop culture enthusiast.  The show ended in November 2012, partially due to Trachtenberg's burgeoning career as a film director, and four years later we finally get to see the results of that in the form of 10 Cloverfield Lane, his directorial debut.

Being a Bad Robot production, 10 Cloverfield Lane was shrouded in pre-production secrecy, so much so that it was operating under the code name Valencia for years, and didn't get revealed as a Cloverfield film until a little over a month ago.  The movie itself doles out information gradually too.  After getting run off the road by a mysterious force in the beginning of the film, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up to find herself chained to a wall in a windowless room with a bum knee and an IV in her arm.  It turns out she was rescued by Howard (John Goodman), who informs her that there was some sort of "attack" that has contaminated the Earth and left it unlivable for a year or two.  A paranoid ex-military man, Howard built a self-sustainable bunker years ago in preparation of such an event, with the help of Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.), who tells Michelle that he saw the attack firsthand and fought his way into the bunker.

Howard insists that the three of them are the only people alive, despite the fact that Michelle hears noises above her room in the bunker.  Is Howard a psycho who's keeping them captive?  Is the outside world really contaminated due to this strange attack?  10 Cloverfield Lane weaves a neat thriller out of those questions, containing these three characters in one location and letting the mystery slowly unravel.  Gallagher, Winstead, and Goodman are all terrific together, bouncing off of each other as tensions rise.  It's Winstead especially who stands out.  She's been an underrated actress for a while, showing her talents in Smashed, and being one of the only redeemable things about the American remake of The Returned.  But her performance here might really put her on the map.  Winstead is constantly shown thinking, calculating, and weighing her options, allowing the audience to place themselves perfectly within her head.  It helps that Michelle is a wonderfully conceived character: smart, resourceful and tough, without being unrealistically perfect.  She belongs up there with Rita Vratski from Edge of Tomorrow and Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road as one of the great female protagonists of the last few years.

The script written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken (with a pass from Whiplash's Damien Chazelle) is clever and nimble, balancing the tonal shifts it constantly throws at the audience with aplomb.  10 Cloverfield Lane is mostly a Hitchcockian thriller, but it's not afraid to be a character drama, while also fitting a few laughs into the proceedings.  (There's a scene in the middle of the film where the characters play Taboo that manages to be tense and hilarious at the same time.)  And the film has more than a few genuine surprises up its sleeve, always delivering them at moments that charge up scenes that have lulled you into a false sense of security.

It would be cruel to give away any of those secrets though.  This is one of those movies that is best to go into with as little information as possible.  Given its title, everybody will have some clue of the general direction 10 Cloverfield Lane heads toward.  And admittedly, the moment when the film's flirtation with the franchise in its namesake becomes a full-on relationship is a little disappointing, especially since the self-contained nail-biter before it was satisfying enough.  Still, this well-crafted tale is not only a triumph of feature-length debut directing from Trachtenberg, but it also establishes Cloverfield as an anthology series that is capable of telling diverse stories within its universe.


  1. As I stated we're going tonight; so you were disappointed with the ending? I've heard some people say the last 30 minutes are crazy in a seemingly good way while others don't like it.

    1. Yeah, I wouldn't say I didn't like it, but the last 10 minutes or so are certainly my least favorite part of the film.

    2. So we saw it last night, I liked it a lot but I can see why you weren't such a fan of the last 10 minutes; I kind of expected more from the ending than what it was.

      Do you think Cloverfield was "the first wave" as Howard described it?

    3. Yeah I'm assuming that Cloverfield was the first wave. But I've seen some people saying that this is technically not in the same universe as the first film and that what makes it an anthology series is that it'll be a bunch of movies about a similar type of attack but not the same thing.

      By the way, have you ever heard of Letterboxd? It's like a site where you can keep track of the movies you watch and give them ratings. You should get one, it's pretty fun.

    4. Lol I would never be able to actually keep up with that site if I tried to put reviews on there...I'll read yours though! XD

      I don't know, maybe I'll try it.