Monday, March 14, 2016

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

by Patrick Bromley
So good. So sure to rub people the wrong way.

10 Cloverfield Lane, the stunning and supremely confident directorial debut of Dan Trachtenberg, is likely to be another in a growing line of genre films hurt by its marketing (see also: The Babadook, It Follows and, most recently, The Witch). The big difference here is that 10 Cloverfield Lane invites it onto itself by virtue of its title and the "mystery box" approach employed by producer J.J. Abrams. Hopefully the marketing doesn't take away from the film itself, which is terrific.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, who, as the movie opens, is packing her bags and rushing out of her place in Louisiana before her fiancee/husband gets home and talks her out of it. Her car is hit on the road and she wakes up chained to the wall in an underground bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman), a doomsday prepper who tells her that there has been an attack and that it is no longer safe outside. Also in the shelter is Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), a local whose presence cannot quite be accounted for.

I'll talk around spoilers -- again, because of the marketing this is a film about which people seem especially spoiler-phobic -- and begin by praising the performances of 10 Cloverfield Lane, two of which achieve genuine greatness. Gallagher Jr. is affable and everything, but he's completely outshone by Winstead and Goodman giving some of the very best performances of their careers. Goodman, an actor who makes everything in which he appears exponentially better just by virtue of his own participation, is doing some next-level shit here. Every time we think we know who he is or why he's doing what he's doing, Goodman shifts gears and forces us to reconsider. His best moments can't be discussed without spoiling certain developments, so I'll just say that he is alternately tragic and scary and monstrous and right.

Winstead's enormous, expressive eyes are constantly in a state of looking -- searching her surroundings for a tool or a way of escape or looking outside the frame at something in wonder. There are so many shots of Winstead looking in this movie and none of them feel repetitive, partly because Winstead is so good at communicating what is behind each look and partly because director Trachtenberg gives them each a different context. Despite the claustrophobia of what is essentially a single setting, Trachtenberg and DP Jeff Cutter keep coming up with new ways to shoot it, staging dozens of perfectly composed frames that communicate information visually without succumbing to first movie/bottle episode flash. Trachtenberg rivals some Spielberg in terms of knowing just where to put the camera. He does not misstep.
That's not to say the movie doesn't misstep, which it does to varying degrees at times, though never enough to derail it or ruin my overall enjoyment. There's a lot of setting up and paying off in the construction of the screenplay (co-written by Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle), and I can't quite decide if it's Back to the Future-style economy or Signs-style obviousness. Probably a little of both. There are coincidences that arise out of convenience which wouldn't even phase me in any other movie, but because 10 Cloverfield Lane is so often committed to following through on its premise and affording the characters a great deal of intelligence and agency (seriously, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle never stops doing the right things even when she is unsuccessful) that it becomes a little jarring when those moments do come up.

And then there is the last act, which is the stuff that's really going to polarize the audience. To be honest, I liked these developments more before I came home and read more about them, because I interpreted them one way and then found out that I was wrong (it's impossible for me to say more). There's still great stuff in this section of the film, but it feels rushed and somewhat ported over from a different film -- like it's there so that the movie can fit inside a prescribed box. I understand why this stuff is frustrating for a lot of the audience, but I can see myself being more forgiving of it on repeat viewings when I know what to expect.
There's talk that 10 Cloverfield Lane is just the next installment in a possible series of anthology films built around the Cloverfield brand. I'm not sure how I feel about that right now, as I feel like I can foresee what some of the problems of such a series might be. What I know is that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a fantastic little genre movie: expertly acted and directed with absolute confidence and precision. Even if there are some storytelling choices that don't land quite as well for me as some of the earlier beats, I cannot say enough about the filmmaking technique on display. Don't let marketing or expectations get in your way. There is so much to love with this one.

20 comments:

  1. From what I read about the ending in the original script I think I might have preferred it, although it might have literally hit a little too close to home for you Chicago folk.

    Overall I thought it was a really well crafted movie. It's also incredibly hard to talk about while talking around spoilers.

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    1. Can you provide a link or an article regarding the original scripted ending? I loved what happened in the film so I'm curious why Patrick's interpretation was wrong and what is so polarizing.

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    2. The title of the movie in the original script was The Cellar. There's a pretty good article about the differences between the original script and the final movie here (Warning: the article contains Spoilers for the entirety of 10 Cloverfield Lane as well):

      http://thefilmstage.com/features/how-the-cellar-became-10-cloverfield-lane-breaking-down-the-original-script-vs-the-final-film/

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    3. Yeesh. I'm glad for the movie we got. I think some aspects of the old plot would have enhanced the film a little but overall I thought the movie was great.

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  2. I love SO much about this movie. I am turned off by 10 mnutes or so, but that does not drain my appreciation for the movie as a whole one bit. MAN I wish I could say more. Hopefully this movie can get its own podcast someday. It's well worth talking about. Also, F the Oscars, but John Goodman is Oscar worthy. I never would have thought he'd become a screen actor I enjoy watching as much as I have in recent years.

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  3. I really enjoyed the movie but kind of groaned at a crucial point. Since leaving the theater I've felt better about that section of the movie but I also wish I could see the movie without that stuff in it. Maybe the blu ray will have an alternate cut. It's definitely possible to make this movie into a very different movie by omitting or shifting a couple of scenes.

    I really want to know what you mean here - "To be honest, I liked these developments more before I came home and read more about them, because I interpreted them one way and then found out that I was wrong (it's impossible for me to say more)."

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  4. Lets cover what I don't like about this movie, THE TITLE! It gives movie goers the wrong idea about what they are paying to see. If this movie had a title omitting the "Cloverfield" brand I probably wouldn't have paid to see it.

    That being said, lets touch on the things I did like, THE STORY! The story on it's own was enough to "sell" this movie. You on the edge of your seat from the time the girl leaves her apartment until...? Don't wanna spoil it for ya. John Goodman once again raised the bar to a whole new level, we could be talking Oscar here. I recommend this film to the power of infinity. Forget the title, you'll enjoy it more if you do.

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    1. That's precisely why they did it. You wouldn't have gone to see it if they hadn't called it that. But aren't you glad you did? Pay attention to the trailers more than the marketing and, at least in this case, you'll get a better idea of what you're in for.

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    2. I was expecting certain elements based off of the title as well but loved that I was wrong. Been a while since I've been truly surprised by an ending.

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  5. This movie is silly good for a first time director. It is always visually interesting, a fact made more impressive by the lack of environments available, and it is structured quite well. I have problems with the final few minutes, which feel like they got shoved into the wrong movie, but those problems are minor compared to the initial 90% which is fantastic. All the performances are fantastic, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is no lobbying herself for one of my favorite actors working right now. So despite being somewhat let down by the ending, I think the rest of the film is so great that it really doesn't matter.

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  6. John Goodman's furious nose breathing is scarier than 90% of movies I've seen in the last 5 years

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    1. If we're thinking about the same scene (and I think we are), then I'm so glad you brought it up. This is one of the best performances I've seen in a very long time, and the fact that he manages to convey such terror and menace out of the simple act of breathing is mind-blowing. I'd put Goodman's performance in this movie up there with Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs when it comes to affable sociopaths. I can't wait to watch it over and over again when it's out on video.

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  7. Yes! It was an enjoyable movie with an inspired performance by John Goodman. To me the ending satisfied and complemented the overall story quite nicely. The beauty of the movie, and ultimately its strength, was the interaction of the movies three leads and the claustrophobic situation in which they found themselves. Good flim, worthy of at least one viewing.

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  8. I'd like to take Alison Brie's "Room" Oscar and give it to John Goodman for this movie. Many young actresses could have delivered what she did with that material (no? She has plenty of life left to prove otherwise to me), but I don't think anyone besides Goodman could have elevated this film as he did. I went in with somewhat low expectations and was captivated all the way through. Hands up for Winstead, as well, who is endlessly watchable and reflects her situations like a prism, making them all the more interesting. I think she's a strong choice for this franchise, if that's what the future holds. After this wildcard, I have no idea what to expect from the brand next. But I'm more interested than I was a week ago.

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    1. By Alison Brie I mean Brie Larson! I wouldn't knock your girl, Adam Riske.

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    2. You're all kinds of good people, Kelly Shea.

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    3. Ain't nothing wrong with Alison Brie though!

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  9. I'm terribly behind on everything right now - movies, the articles on this site, my mortgage payments (just kidding, I'm actually a railway hobo), but I finally got around to 10 Cloverfield Lane and I really enjoyed it too. [SPOILERS AHEAD] You're so right about the marketing hurting this movie because (a) it serves as a bit of a spoiler because it had me thinking the whole time that there are monsters or something outside the bunker even when that's supposed to be in doubt and (b) the connection is to tenuous (I'm not even sure what it is? It clearly takes place after Cloverfield but no mention is made of that - are we to presume the "aliens" are also some sort of deep-sea creatures) that it kinda disappointed the part of me that is a Cloverfield fan, instead of just leaving me a happy [This Movie Shouldn't be Called] 10 Cloverfield Lane fan. Patrick "The Birthday Boy" Bromley - care to expound on what you misinterpreted? I feel like I missed an ambiguity there and I'm racking my brain to figure out what it is...

    But anyway, great, great performances from Winstead (I'm slightly ashamed to admit that during the movie I found myself thinking I'd abandon my life and everyone in it to marry her right now) and Goodman (ditto), and a pretty great little thriller that really should have been allowed to stand on its own.

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  10. MILD SPOILERS AHEAD: My initial reaction to the ending was remembering the FTM! podcast for Super 8 in which Patrick and JB discussed the phenomenon of two separate movies competing with each other. Again, we seem to have a monster movie ("monsters fix families!") tacked onto a character drama. This article explains the symbolism, but I'm not sure that makes it a better movie. Seems like the lead character could have been presented with different challenges that didn't employ the Deus ex Monstera device. I guess I am trying to find the balancing point between art, where everything is a representation, and story, where we see aspects of ourselves within the characters.

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