"10 Cloverfield Lane" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 105 minutes
Review by: JJ Mortimer
In what is to be a continuation of the franchise of monster-induced mayhem movies created by 2008s Cloverfield, the JJ Abrams-produced 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense, claustrophobic, mostly-fantastic drama headed by a frightening performance by John Goodman. Though depending on your expectations of what is to be expected of a Cloverfield movie, this film may either surprise or disappoint you in the third act's final moments.
10 Cloverfield Lane for the most part is a great drama/mystery. Howard, and "end of days" survivalist (played by John Goodman) is frightening in presence, and what makes him even more terrifying is in trying to figure out if he is actually correct in his presumptions of what is happening to the world outside the bunker with which he is keeping Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) "captive." Neither Michelle, or John Gallagher Jr.'s character Emmett (who fought to get IN to the bunker when all shit broke loose), quite understand exactly what is going on, and can only rely on the word of their surly, unstable bunker host to keep them believing that they are safe where they are.
Had the film stayed as just a captor/hostage film, we would have a great, subdued and tense thriller that would explore the psychology of captivity with a man of a questionable past who has spent his entire life preparing for the end of the world, and two people thrown into the mix who either have to learn to believe the man or fight to free themselves and take their chances with the outside world. But, knowing we are dealing with a sequel to a giant monster movie, something is going to be more than it seems - for better or for worse.
In terms of 10 Cloverfield Lane's narrative switch, the film reminded me a bit of From Dusk till Dawn with a hint of Heston's Planet of the Apes thrown in. While Dawn was a complete switcheroo in terms of what kind of movie it was supposed to be, 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps you guessing (and second guessing) as to what may or may not be real until we finally discover it at the end of the film - much like Apes before it. The fact that we already know that this is a Cloverfield film does answer most of our questions before we see it for ourselves, unfortunately.
This is a film where I largely enjoyed the slower moments, the quiet discussions between two people trapped in a claustrophically-small environment relatively against their will. The dinner scenes are particularly effective, with a man so much a monster on his own that his "guests" are willing to risk whatever "monsters" are on the outside in order to escape him.
In its quieter moments, we connect to the able-minded Michelle as she tries her best to survive in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter with a man who believes every fantasy that gave him the notion to build one. Director Dan Trachtenberg shoots John Goodman with such an imposing force that his character Howard, narratively and psychologically, stands toe-to-toe with the original Cloverfield monster. As the film's tagline reads, "Monsters Come in a Many Forms." Had the film ended with that, it would have worked even without the final resolution that felt rushed and a bit out of touch with the Michelle character that Mary Elizabeth Winstead spent the entire run time establishing. Future films may make me appreciate it more, but I had more fun trying to figure whether or not I believed Howard, that either Russians or Martians had invaded the world above, rather than actually finding out the truth.