Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane
By Ben Gruchow
March 15, 2016
There’s some kind of cynic’s humor to be milled from the fact that, of the films so far released by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions studio, the ones authored by someone other than Abrams seem to be the ones that end up doing better by their concepts. 2008’s Cloverfield, one of the first Bad Robot movies to really make an impact in any sense, wasn’t technically directed by Abrams, but Matt Reeves was making his feature debut and the contours of the thing - from the splendidly vague six-months-in-advance teaser announcement to the myriad plot hints and maybe-non-hints dropped in various corners of the Internet to the actual film itself, which was an intermittently effective mishmash of found-footage tedium and intriguingly disproportionate creature design - had the unshakeable feel of an Abrams pet project.
Bearing all of this in mind, the amusement is that 10 Cloverfield Lane, which started life as an unrelated project called The Cellar and got retitled and unveiled as an apparatus of the preexisting - universe? mythos? ethic? royalties sphere? - only eight or nine weeks ago, is not only far better than the 2008 film, but perhaps the single most complete and sure-footed thing to come out of Bad Robot Productions. More surprising is what the film is divorced from context, which is an aggressively taut engagement of how the feeling of doubt and second-guessing one’s inclinations can be simultaneously the best and worst emotion to experience for a given situation.
The opening passages establish unspoken conflict: Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) takes part in a harried phone conversation that we are not privy to the details of; following this, she packs and leaves town. On the road, we listen along with her to the news; we are told about multiple blackouts in major cities on the Eastern Seaboard. There is a car accident, and Michelle is knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, she’s chained to a mattress in a nearly-bare, windowless room. Then the door opens, and…but to go any further (and I stress that we are perhaps four or five minutes into a 103-minute feature, and just barely past the title cards) would be to spoil important developments. Suffice it to say John Goodman is involved as a character named Howard, as is John Gallagher Jr. as a character named Emmet.
There are further developments - lots of them, enough to where I could probably write a short dissertation on the first half-hour and it still wouldn’t really qualify as a spoiler - and if there’s a better counterpunch to the omnipresence of unleashing trailer after teaser after announcement teaser, with social-media tie-ins and Super Bowl trailers, it hasn’t yet revealed itself. Even when you’re watching the setup of a really skillfully assembled thriller, you lose what I believe is a hefty chunk of the suspense when you’re thinking of the moment from the second trailer, when you saw a shot or line of dialogue that was obviously from the climactic sequence (or otherwise high-stakes moment) - and no matter how involving those early moments might be, you’ve got an eye kept toward the moment when you know there’ll be a game-changer. Some people call that anticipation; with very few exceptions, I call it undercutting the story for the sake of grabbing a Moment.