Monday, August 22, 2016

Worth The One Viewing: 10 Cloverfield Lane Is Interesting!

The Good: Performances, Mood, Plot development
The Bad: Limited concept appeal, Lack of genuine complexity, Mediocre characters
The Basics: 10 Cloverfield Lane is a clever glimpse back into the universe created in Cloverfield that works surprisingly well on its own!

Cloverfield (reviewed here!) is one of those films that I watched when it first hit theaters, reviewed, and spent no time beyond it considering. When the very first movie poster for 10 Cloverfield Lane was posted online, I rolled my eyes and thought that Cloverfield was a film that did not really require a sequel, so it seemed odd that the studio had bothered to make one. I wasted no time rushing out to see 10 Cloverfield Lane in the theaters (because one of the few things I recall about Cloverfield was nauseating angles on the big screen).

Now on Blu-Ray and DVD, I decided to watch 10 Cloverfield Lane because I like John Goodman and his presence in the film gave it an instant credibility. Besides Goodman's presence in the film, all I knew about 10 Cloverfield Lane before I sat down to watch it was that it was a very different film from Cloverfield. I envied the ambition of making a very different type of film from the "found footage" science fiction film to continue the franchise.

Michelle packs up a box of her possessions, leaves her engagement ring behind and drives off into the night. When her fiance calls, the call is disconnected moments before Michelle gets into a car accident. She awakens in a concrete room, an i.v. in her arm and her knee in a cast, handcuffed to the wall. After she manages to recover her smartphone from across the room, she is visited by a man who brings her food, crutches and the key to the handcuffs. He tells her that he intends to keep her alive and, despite what she says about her boyfriend, that no one is looking for her.

The man is Howard and he has a fully functional bunker where he is prepared to live out the catastrophic event that has occurred outside. Howard believes that there is either a chemical or nuclear attack, which has poisoned the air outside (as evidenced by two dead pigs within sight of the airlock door on the surface). Howard, Michelle, and a man named Emmett (who has a hurt arm) adapt to life in the bunker with Emmett revealing to Michelle that he saw what he believed was the attack and he fought to get into the bunker. Emmett helped Howard build the bunker and he believes Howard can help him survive. Michelle, convinced she heard a car above her bunker room, is unsettled by Howard. She remains unconvinced of the horrors outside until she tries to leave the bunker when a crazed woman, with a bloody face, tries to get into the bunker. Howard admits that he was responsible for Michelle's car accident and the two begin to bond over things like Michelle stitching Howard's head wound and going through the box of possessions Howard rescued from Michelle's car. After bonding for a bit, the bunker is shaken by something on the surface and Michelle has to go into the air ducts in order to restart the air filtration system. She is spooked, though, to find a message scratched into the glass of a window in the filtration room and an earring, which seems to belong to a local girl that Emmett knew went missing. Michelle and Emmett scavenge a shower curtain from the trash chute to build a contamination suit and gas mask to leave the bunker.

10 Cloverfield Lane is essentially a film that tries to keep the viewer guessing as to the nature of Howard's bunker. Is he a benevolent rescuer who accurately foresaw the potential of an impending apocalyptic event or is he a nutcase conspiracy theorist who has abducted Michelle? That type of film truly hinges on the characters in the film being interesting enough to carry long scenes of people simply interacting to make the viewer care as to what happens to them. 10 Cloverfield Lane does that well-enough to be watchable. There are plenty of moments in the film where the viewer is able to be immersed within the narrative of the three survivors in the bunker as opposed to simply thinking, "I wonder how this fits in to Cloverfield?"

John Gallagher Jr. is very good as Emmett. Gallagher might well be best known for his clean-shaven, upstanding, articulate character from The Newsroom, but in 10 Cloverfield Lane he plays a laborer who feel like he missed his chance to accomplish something. Emmett fought to get into the bunker and he plays fearful and ambitious and the character is just clever enough in some of the key, tense, scenes to be plausible. Gallagher is able to portray the wide range of emotions for the sometimes simple character very well.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is fine as Michelle, but the truth is that Michelle is a very simple character. Most of Winstead's performance and time on screen is designed to make the viewer fearful for Michelle and Winstead does everything she needs to to make the viewer care. Michelle is vulnerable and the physical contrast between Winstead and Goodman is significant enough that the viewer worries instantly for her safety. As Winstead bugs out her eyes and breathes frantically, the concern the viewer has for Michelle intensifies.

10 Cloverfield Lane features a predictably diverse performance from John Goodman as Howard. Goodman has the range that keeps the viewer unsettled, wondering just who Howard actually is and what his motives actually are. Goodman plays Howard as alternately reserved and exhibiting a dangerous temper. Howard is an interesting foil for Michelle and Goodman finds the balance to play him to make him seem like someone who was shellshocked, but smartly prepared.

Ultimately, 10 Cloverfield Lane plays out as a somewhat predictable mindfuck. The film makes a final scene left turn from the drama-thriller that preceded it, but it works and is, at its worst, watchable.

For other works with John Gallagher Jr., please visit my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season 4
Jonah Hex
The Newsroom - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 2
The Newsroom - Season 3


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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