Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane
By Matthew Huntley
March 17, 2016
10 Cloverfield Lane is a concoction of several other movies but unfortunately not as good as any of them. Right off the bat, I detected elements from Night of the Living Dead, Panic Room, 28 Days Later, War of the Worlds, and of course, Cloverfield, of which this film is sort of an extension. We can assume the events that take place in 10 Cloverfield Lane run parallel to those in Cloverfield, the found footage movie about an alien monster that attacks New York City. 10 Cloverfield Lane is also about an attack on Earth, but rather than this being the main subject, it merely serves as a catalyst for a more enclosed and human plot.
Other differences are that 10 Cloverfield Lane takes place in remote farm country outside Lake Charles, Louisiana, and instead of being told in a found footage style, it’s a traditional narrative with clearly defined scenes, cuts and montages. This approach doesn’t detract from the film’s attempted effect, necessarily, but it does remind us what made the first Cloverfield so unique.
The story opens with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman of about 30, packing and leaving her apartment in a hurry after she and her boyfriend had a fight. Anxious and desperate, Michelle hops into her car and starts driving. She ignores phone calls and remains unaware of the events happening outside. Suddenly, another vehicle strikes her and runs her off the road.
Despite the film’s eventual shortcomings, I will say the car accident scene is executed extremely well and really puts us in the driver’s seat, so to speak (for anyone who’s ever had the unfortunate experience of being in a similar accident, it rings all too true). If anything, it gets us excited because we hope the rest of the movie might be just as intense and visceral.
Michelle awakens in a cold, heavily barricaded cement room with no windows and a locked steal door. With her leg broken, she’s hooked up to an IV drip and chained to the wall, while her possessions, including her cell phone, remain just out of arm’s reach. Then footsteps approach from outside, the door opens, and a large, towering figure sets down a tray of food. This is Howard (John Goodman), who doesn’t seem intent on hurting Michelle so much as controlling her. He wants to make sure she’s grateful to him for saving her life amidst the attack on Earth. Who or what has attacked Earth I will not say, but Howard informs Michelle they can’t leave his underground bunker because the air outside is contaminated (something that gets proven in two gruesome scenes later on).
When Michelle finally accepts she’s going to be here for a while, she starts exploring her new dwelling and finds she isn’t Howard’s only “tenant.” There’s also Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a bearded farmhand who tells Michelle he actually helped build the shelter. “Howard’s sort of a black belt when it comes to conspiracy theories,” Emmett says, telling her the old man anticipated an attack years ago and planned accordingly.
And boy, did he ever. With the exception of sunlight, Howard’s fortification essentially lacks for nothing. It’s got water, electricity, food, furniture, a full kitchen and bathroom, a TV, games, even a jukebox. And Howard is none to shy about making his efforts known. “Crazy is building your arc after the flood has already come,” he preaches.
But that’s not to say Howard isn’t crazy in other ways, and the question driving the plot is what this man’s deal really is, because there’s just something off about him. He’s the only one with keys to the outside world; he carries a gun; and he’s prone to violent outbursts, which are balanced out by moments of avuncular generosity when he talks about his beloved daughter, whom he suspects is dead. Michelle remains suspicious and alert, but she plays Howard’s game for the time being, seeing as though she has no choice and because he tells her and Emmett they’ll have to be sequestered for about “a year or two” until the air is safe. And just when everything seems to be going okay, Michelle finds something that reignites her initial fears and apprehension.
What she finds, I leave for you to discover, although “discover” may be too strong a word, because it suggests 10 Cloverfield Lane actually had something relatively new and insightful to show us. But I found it too closely mirrored others of its kind in terms of the events and how they pan out, which made it all more predictable and, frankly, silly.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have some admirable qualities, including a strong performance from John Goodman and a well-designed set and shooting style, which the filmmakers fully utilize within such close quarters. But the acting and production values deserved a better screenplay, one that generated more tension and unease instead of simply dishing out typical thriller and sci-fi elements that ultimately come across as dull and ordinary. Director Dan Trachtenberg definitely has the competency and visual savvy to be a good storyteller, and even though 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a total loss, I look forward to his future work when he hopefully has a more worthy story at his disposal.