Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
In a unique twist, 10 Cloverfield Lane managed to be made without anyone knowing about it, but then it was relentlessly advertised and it’s no secret that I abhor this new world of teasers, trailer after trailer after trailer and incessant tv spots. Why keep the movie a mystery only to inundate us with too much information before we even get our butts in the theatre? After actively avoiding the online teaser, I managed to only see one proper trailer for this movie at the theatre. As someone who had enjoyed seeing Cloverfield in the theatre, I really enjoyed the idea of a companion film. Or, as producer J.J. Abrams likes to call it, a blood relative of Cloverfield. Whatever it is, it definitely brings the same building suspense and fear of the unknown that it’s predecessor did.
After Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves her apartment in a hurry, she stops at a gas station where the token, ominous truck appears and while we never see the driver, I think we can all agree that it’s probably Howard. Played by the always wonderful John Goodman, Howard is the kind of gruff man that comes off as bristly, but also has a soft side. All the better to continuously confuse the viewer as to whether or not we should trust him. Howard has been anticipating Doomsday and he’s uber prepared with a fully stocked underground bunker that has electricity, running water and an air filtration system. Seeing the warning signs of the coming apocalypse, he is ready to go underground, but he accidentally collides with Michelle’s car in his panic to get home and it’s in his nature to do the right thing and take her with him so he can nurse her back to health. Or is he just a wackadoo creeper who likes to keep young brunettes in his bunker and running into her was no accident at all? That is the question you will be asking yourself through most of the film and Goodman does a bang up job of delivering his lines in a way that makes you wonder if it’s his God fearing upbringing that makes his say some of the things he does or if it’s because he’s cray-cray.
Throwing a wrench into this dynamic is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett had previously worked on the construction of Howard’s underground facility, so he fought his way into it when he realized the world was about to go straight to hell. After a rocky start, the three of them find a way to peacefully cohabitate and everything seems fine until Michelle finds some unsettling evidence that points to a more sinister side of Howard. It’s all such a wonderful cat and mouse game that the final act of the film felt so needlessly tacked on. In fact, I really, really want to love this movie, but there are simply far too many issues for me to look past.
If you have not yet seen the film, I highly suggest not reading any further. I simply must be a bit spoiler-y in order to fully explain my frustration.
First and foremost, the basic premise of the film is very similar to a novel. I’m not here to cause problems or point fingers, so I’m just going to leave it at that, but it was hard for me to get past, initially. Secondly, Michelle is a fantastic final girl, so of course it’s going to be in her nature to try to escape what she believes to be a dangerous situation, but we never really learn how dangerous it is or could be. As the evidence against Howard begins to grow, I’m more interested in his motives. He doesn’t appear to have sexual or violent motives in keeping Michelle, and possibly other young ladies, in his underground hideout, but he definitely has some sort of strange issue. Especially telling is his inability to see Michelle as a woman, not a girl, during a board game that escalates into a great moment of suspense and terror. A photograph of Howard and his “daughter” Maggie is found and my main question is, “WHO TOOK THIS PICTURE?!” Seriously, who was the person behind the camera, because they have a lot of explaining to do and where are they?
Yes, there is violence at the hands of Howard, but I don’t think that he ever intended any harm towards Michelle. It seems as though he just wanted to live an idyllic life with a stand in daughter:forever and ever. Weird, but not super dangerous. Especially if the air outside is lethal and you need somewhere to wait it out. Thirdly, the most awful thing, for me, about this movie is it’s final act. The aliens were 100% completely unnecessary. Everything that happens outside of the bunker feels so painfully tacked on and the very last shot is such a desperate visual attempt to tie this movie into the Cloverfield universe and set up a sequel, that it’s just embarrassing.
There are currently a lot of internet rumors swirling that the reason the ending may feel tacked on is because the original script was titled “The Cellar” and it never included aliens. While that would be a really great and easy explanation, it is not true. You can read an interview with director Dan Tratchenberg here: http:// where this is all explained. I really wish these rumors were true, though, because then I would have a lot more leeway for forgiveness of the final act. Full disclosure: aliens and science fiction, in general, don’t tend to get me excited, but this movie really would have benefited from omitting them all together. I was totally on board with the story that was happening underground amongst our three characters and would have really loved to have seen that fully explored. As it stands, the ending of that story is rushed to an unsatisfying ending in order to propel Michelle outside so she can blow up an alien aircraft in an absolutely absurd manner and then set up another blood relative movie. And that’s the thing; this isn’t a blood relative of Cloverfield. It’s more like a third cousin, twice removed who, legally, you could marry because that’s how distantly related you are.
Seeing Michelle escape was great and I look forward to seeing the cosplays at conventions. I even really loved the shot of her seeing the alien aircraft for the first time and her reaction is priceless. From there, it just kind of spirals out of control into a mini alien invasion television episode. In fact, the filmmakers have likened the movie to an episode of Twilight Zone, but the Twilight Zone would have known to simply end the episode shortly after our final girl escaped and found out the truth about the atmosphere. You’re either a taut psychological thriller or you’re an alien invasion movie, but melding them both together just didn’t work for this girl.