Release: Friday, March 11, 2016
Written by: Josh Campbell; Matthew Stuecken; Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Dan Trachtenberg’s suffocating and impossibly intense monster movie arrests viewers with a power few thrillers in recent memory have had. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an early contender for biggest surprise hit of 2016, delivering a story that’s conceptually simple, emotionally complex and psychologically perturbing.
Produced by J.J. Abrams, 10 Cloverfield Lane pits Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle against John Goodman’s doomsday prepper Howard, an ex-military man who claims he saved her life having rescued her from the wreckage of an accident and brought her to his underground bunker. The film is told primarily through her point of view as the cameras hover within an inch of her face, gauging her reaction as she awakens in a cold, bare room chained to a pipe. We’ll remain close to her throughout as the film brilliantly plays with that concept of perspective. Michelle believes she’s been kidnapped. Howard, despite himself, insists he is showing her hospitality. Further complicating things is the presence of a third party, someone whom Howard apparently has known for some time, a younger man named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.).
The cast is undeniably one of the film’s strengths. John Goodman hasn’t been this good in years and Winstead shoulders the task of carrying the movie with such grace, while Gallagher Jr. remains a fairly warm presence, attempting to lighten the mood whenever possible. With all due respect to their work, arguably the film’s greatest asset is its cramped setting. Small rooms filled with all the resources you’d expect to see in a fall-out shelter (note the shelves filled with Fruit-by-the-Foots)? Check. Maguffin-esque technology that justifies how they are able to breathe clean air? Check. Drab colors and dim lighting? Check. A sense of sterility overriding Howard’s best efforts to make the place feel cozy? Big, big check.
The claustrophobic set essentially means the interactions between the characters will be intense and susceptible to volatility, and their actions and reactions will be scrutinized appropriately. Even without knowing specifically what it will be, we know something is going to happen that will forever alter the dynamic and shift proceedings into an entirely new and even more uncomfortable paradigm. Call it fate. I’m going to call it the product of an excellent script collaborated on by Damien Chazelle, writer/director of the sensational jazz drumming drama Whiplash.
And while all of this is taking place underground, we’re left wondering . . . where are the monsters? 10 Cloverfield Lane is an exercise in restraint in that regard, depending on how you define what a monster is and is not. The concept of perception and how it can be so easily skewed extends well beyond what we think of the characters we’re stuck in a room with. It goes beyond the reaches of the bunker and out past the cornfields that surround forebodingly; it ventures deep into the unknown. Perception is everything here until it is nothing at all; in other words we have to absolutely trust in everything that’s being presented and thanks to the craftsmanship, that’s not much of a challenge.
It might be too early to call it a genre mainstay, but suffice it to say films like this, films in which suspense is established early and at a high level and only increases exponentially as time pushes on, are somewhat of a rarity. The stress here is real and it is relentless. Perhaps part of the shock of the experience stems from the nature of its release date. We only have to wait two more weeks until Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice drops, and here in the annual post-Oscars malaise we actually have something to chew over in a period where films typically are released without any fanfare because, well, they don’t deserve it. But the spiritual successor to Cloverfield does. Oh boy, how it does.
Recommendation: In the vein of a sci fi thriller classic (still too early to say for sure but I already feel pretty comfortable saying it), 10 Cloverfield Lane is a film for adrenaline junkies. When all is said and done the buzz that it leaves you with is kind of cathartic. Excellent acting, gut-wrenching reveals and a brilliant narrative structure all work toward creating a film that is doggedly determined to do what it’s label suggests: thrill.
Running Time: 103 mins.
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