Thursday, March 24, 2016

"10 Cloverfield Lane" Review: Paranoia Runs Rampant In This Tightly Wound Doomsday Thriller


Back in 2008 there was this little film released called Cloverfield. It was made by a group of mostly unknown filmmakers at the time who have since gone on to bigger and arguably better things but none of their projects have had the lasting impact Cloverfield has had which has captivated fans with all its unanswered or unexplained mysteries to this very day. Despite having all the same people responsible for that cult classic involved in the production for the new film 10 Cloverfield Lane, it will likely leave any still looking for answers frustrated as it is linked to its brethren in name only making this one of the biggest marketing cons in recent history. Luckily the film we got makes up for any lack of Cloverfield connections. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  1 hr 45 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: March 11, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock
Likes: J.J. Abrams, Cloverfield (2008), Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman
Neutral: Forcing a square peg into a round hole (aka last minute changes to a script to serve a different purpose)
Hates: Expecting connections to Cloverfield and coming up empty
What was the point of calling this Cloverfield?: Apparently this was done in an attempt to create a franchise of sorts.

The shelter may be cozy but the company isn't exactly trustworthy.

After surviving a deadly car crash Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up and finds herself stuck in a bomb shelter with two other people. Howard (John Goodman) is the man in charge and is also the man responsible for saving Michelle by pulling her from the car wreck and bringing her into his shelter. The other person trapped in the shelter is Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), a local who helped Howard build his shelter and forced his way in just after the incident happened that drove them all underground. Unsure who to trust and what to believe, Michelle must use her wits to determine who is who they say they are and whether or not anything really happened to keep them trapped inside the shelter.

Aside from some key production team members, a few eleventh hour changes to the script and title change there is absolutely no evidence of anything linking 10 Cloverfield Lane (henceforth referred to as 10CL) to that 2008 film, at least nothing pertaining to the narrative. Even the most observant viewers will likely have a hard time linking the two films together since other than a handful of easter eggs that pop up in all of J.J. Abrams films such as the Kelvin gas station there really are none. What does that mean exactly? Well, if you want to truly enjoy 10CL then the best advice is to erase any thought that it is connected to Cloverfield in any way and instead focus on THIS film because in many ways this is a much more effective and intense experience than its similarly named predecessor.

Howard believes Michelle owes him some gratitude for saving her from the apocalypse.

The set up is straight out of something like the Twilight Zone but with a heavy dose of Alfred Hitchcock for added effect. Homages and borrowed imagery are abound all throughout 10CL from the mostly dialogue free opening credits sequence that evokes visions of Hitchcock's masterpiece Pyscho to the paranoia brought on by a severely claustrophobic single location that will remind horror fans of classics like John Carpenter's The Thing or George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. 10CL is more than just a number of familiar visual and thematic elements though as first time director Dan Trachtenberg constructs a film experience that is uniquely his own through some clever story telling tricks and a fantastic cast who are more than willing to throw themselves in the deep end when asked.

In an age filled with film marketing driven by the people starring in them more than the story itself it is refreshing to see a cast picked for their acting talents more than their ability to drawn in audiences. That's more a condemnation of the Hollywood machine than it is the actors though as anyone who watches 10CL will find out very quickly how important casting the right actor in a role is as opposed to casting a name to put on the marquee. Comprised of only three actors for the duration of the film each has a specific role to play that on paper sounds like basic cliches such as Howard the crazy(?) shelter caretaker, Emmet the mysterious goofball and Michelle the untrusting odd woman out who was thrust into this situation against her will and each delivers superb performances.

Sometimes a little maintenance is needed to keep things running smoothly.

While John Goodman has a fairly large hit or miss filmography he usually delivers a strong performance regardless and as Howard he is at the top of his game. Shades of Walter from Big Lebowski and Charlie Meadows from Barton Fink can be seen in Howard as Goodman crafts one of his most unnerving characters in years. Winstead on the other hand has had a peculiar career trajectory choosing roles in mostly off the radar films or genre flicks like The Thing and Grindhouse but nonetheless has proven she is one of the best kept secrets in Hollywood. Once again she delivers a performance that is both manic and very reserved where she takes the role of a heroine in distress and destroys any preconceived notions of the archetype. Gallagher on the other hand is a mostly unknown actor but a very welcome presence as he provides the only real levity in a film with very little to laugh about. You can be dam sure after this he is going to get a flood of work his way.

As for the film itself there really isn't much to say as it is a fairly straightforward affair. It is exactly what it sold itself as in that masterful early trailer which is a film about three people stuck inside a bomb shelter where paranoia runs rampant as each begins to distrust one another and on that note Trachtenberg hits it out of the park. Steadily ratcheting up the intensity as each character begins to suspect the other of not being who they say they are is classic horror stuff but with the added mystery as to what awaits them outside the shelter (if anything) takes the tension to a boiling point. Audiences will be hard pressed to refrain from clutching the hand of their loved one as seemingly mundane scenes around a dinner table or even a simple barrel are played out to their excruciating conclusions.

The barrel scene will likely go down as a modern day classic.

The only area the film falters a little is with its ending. Without giving anything away it is safe to say that once the mystery of what lies outside the shelter is revealed audiences will feel as if they have stepped out of one film and into a completely different one as the shift in tone is jarring. The ending feels as though it was patched on and that is likely because it was. Part of the behind the scenes shuffling around to make the film more Cloverfield-like has resulted in an ending that not only feels rushed but not nearly as interesting as everything that led up to it. The ending isn't bad but if you find yourself fully invested in everything happening in the shelter just be prepared for a completely different experience during its final minutes. Whether it works or not is up for you to decide.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

The new ending may be up for debate but everything that came before it is near perfection. Channeling Hitchcock isn't something new but rarely do we see results this successful. Owing a lot to his perfectly cast lead actors, Trachtenberg has stormed on to the scene in a big way and delivered one of the most intense film experiences you are likely to have this year. Forget about all the Cloverfield nonsense and see the film for what it is, a tension fueled doomsday thriller that will leave you breathless when it is all over.

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