You can’t drink just six!
Earlier today I read a fantastic article by Devin Faraci regarding bias and objectivity when it comes to reviewing movies. To paraphrase the article, it is impossible to be 100% objective and unbiased about a piece of art, as a person’s opinions are shaped and molded by their tastes and life experiences. As hard as one tries, one cannot experience something in a vacuum. This hold’s true with 10 Cloverfield Lane. What would have been a pretty good sci-fi thriller is unfortunately bogged down by a misleading ad campaign that acts as sort of a bait and switch to what would have been a perfectly solid film on its own.
10 Cloverfield Lane tells the story of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman who after a car wreck is kidnapped and kept in a fallout shelter by an unsettling man by the name of Howard Stambler (John Goodman). Michelle is informed that there has been a mysterious attack and that the outside world is unsafe. She must now reside in this bunker for the next two years with Howard and the lovable idiot Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.). What follows is a tense thriller that takes some interesting risks that don’t always quite pay off.
First time director Dan Trachtenberg demonstrates his masterful ability to build and layer tension throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane. From the moment Michelle enters the bunker to the moment the film ends I felt on edge. For a first time director Trachtenberg exemplified his inner Hitchcock with his ability to make relatively mundane activities feel uneasy and stressful. The scene where the group plays Taboo/Catch Phrase actually stressed me out. Trachenberg’s reliance on this tension built during the course of the film help make it all the more impactful when all hell finally breaks loose.
The film’s script is pretty strong and was able to craft believable and interesting characters. The way each of the characters play off each other and react to their situation is the most interesting part of the film. All of the characters are well rounded and developed. Instead of what could have easily fallen into the trap of tropes and cliches, they feel like real people with real motivations. I really like the direction they took with Michelle after she was kidnapped. She could have easily been the cliched damsel-in-distress victim trope, but she works as an antithesis to that. The entire film she is proactive instead of reactive, which is the best kind of protagonist. Instead of simply reacting to events that happen to her, she herself is the one who mainly drives the plot. She is constantly scheming and planning and made for some really intense scenes between her and Howard.
Every one of the performances from the cast are really solid. Mary Elisabeth Winstead’s portrayal of Michelle is really good and helps form Michelle into a believable bad ass. John Gallagher Jr. as Emmet really adds a lot to the movie, as he is the main source of comedic relief. He brings a lot of levity to the film, which is sorely needed due the exorbitant amount of suspense felt throughout. His character is pretty lovable and actually has real depth to him, instead of just being strictly there for comedy. John Goodman gives the performance of a life time as Howard. Goodman breathes so much life into the character and is able to make him feel terrifying, sympathetic, humorous, and creepy all at the same time. The subtle ticks Goodman gives Howard are subdued but noticeable, and help give him an intimidating presence whenever he is on screen. I loved Howard as a character and was a really effective villain for the thriller vibe that film had for the first two acts.
And this where one of my biggest issues with the film is found: the third act. While the first two acts of the film act as a slow burn, tension and dialogue driven thriller film, the final act experiences a total genre and tonal shift, and isn’t really given enough time to breathe. Without going into spoilers, I will say this final act is still exhilarating (in a completely different way compared to the rest of the film) but it feels rushed. The film goes off the rails (not necessarily in a bad way) near the end of the film and I just feel the filmmakers could have spent more time on this particular aspect of the plot. I felt the fantastical events that comprised the final act should have garnered a greater reaction from Michelle. Something occurs here that should be a pretty mind blowing revelation for Michelle, is instead relegated to a “meh, okay” from Michelle, and I fell that didn’t proper emotional weight to her situation.
That’s not to say the final act is all bad. It still comprises of some pretty thrilling action sequences, and some interesting design choices. It just doesn’t flow well with the rest of the film, and feels like it was ripped from another script.
And that brings us to the elephant in the room: the Cloverfield title. While promoting this movie J.J. Abrams referred to this film as a “blood relative” of the original Cloverfield and left it ambiguous as to what that actually meant. Well, I can firmly say that meant next to nothing, because this film has absolutely nothing to do with the original film, outside one small visual reference to the first film’s ARG. Outside of that, this has absolutely no connection to the original film. That’s fine I guess, but it feels deliberately misleading as the marketing of the film focused heavily on the Cloverfield brand (going so far to use the original monster’s iconic roar in the trailer, when he isn’t even mentioned in the film) which only devalues this film. This could have been a solid original piece of science fiction, but instead I can’t help but hold the title against the film as it promised something it wasn’t. I was never expecting this film to be a Cloverfield 2, but it has as much to do with Cloverfield as it does Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The title feels like a cash grab added at the last minute to me.
Overall, I can say that I enjoyed this film. Its a great thriller film with a somewhat weak third act, but it can’t help but be overshadowed by its Cloverfield title. I say go into this film with an open mind, but if you go in expecting any sort continuation of the original Kaiju film, prepare to be disappointed. There is a lot of great stuff to be found in this film, I only wish they went with another title, so I could actually focus on all the things the film did right.
But 0/10 as a Cloverfield movie.