OP-ROB RATING: ALL-STAR
Remember the movie “Cloverfield” that came out in 2008? It was about an alien attack on New York City and the entire movie was supposed to look as if it were filmed on a handheld camera. Fast-forward nearly a decade and “Cloverfield” has given birth to a sequel called “10 Cloverfield Lane”. Both films involve science fiction, and both were produced by J.J. Abrams. However, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a much different movie in almost every other respect. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, a woman who flees her fiancée after a fight and ends up in a horrific car accident. She is run off the road by a pickup truck and awakens in a concrete walled room where she is chained up. An obese, rugged looking man (John Goodman) greets her by vaguely explaining that there has been an attack on earth and that he saved her from the car accident and brought her to his underground bunker. Michelle reacts as any normal person would after being abducted, but the man shrugs off her anxiety and frustratingly tells her “You need to eat. You need to sleep. And you need to show me a little bit of appreciation”. After the sketchy conversation he finally introduces himself adding, “My name’s Howard by the way”.
After being unchained, Michelle meets Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.), a young man who helped build the bunker for Howard. Unlike Michelle, Emmet forced his way into the bunker after the first signs of the attack, which he describes as an unnatural bright red flash. Howard reiterates over and over the dangers of going outside the bunker. A lifelong conspiracy theorist, he believes the attack could be alien and must have resulted in some kind of fallout or air contamination. The single window at the entrance to the bunker reveals two dead pigs that have been chemically burned almost beyond recognition. Despite Emmet’s testimony and the dead pigs, Michelle remains skeptical of the entire situation. And now we’ve reached spoiler territory, so I will back off. But in any case, as the evidence piles up Michelle must decide what to believe is the truth. It is her life that depends on it.
For the record, I didn't enjoy the first Cloverfield movie. The concept was cool, but the shaky camera took away from the suspense and blurred any special details the movie had to offer. A great thriller thrives on the little things like subtleties in dialogue or seemingly unimportant objects in a room that come together to tell more of the story or provide some kind of shocking revelation. “10 Cloverfield Lane” is certainly detail minded. Most of the movie takes place in Howard’s bunker, which consists of four or five rooms. What a man chooses to put in his survival chamber says a lot about him.
Howard is an especially interesting character. He has all the stereotypes associated with a longtime conspiracy theorist, such as loads of nuclear fallout books and pamphlets as well as a military background. Although Howard projects himself as a “man with a plan”, he is always somewhat anxious about every situation. His desire for control is the kind that cannot be satisfied with other human beings around. In one scene the three are playing a board game that resembles “Catch Phrase”. Emmett is holding a card for "Little Women", and prompts Howard by pointing at Michelle to queue "woman". Howard can't seem to find the word, saying stuff like "little girl" and "little princess". Apparently "woman" is not in his vocabulary and he fails the round. It is an enthralling and strange scene that could suggest any number of things about Howard that I am still trying to figure out. It is scenes like this one that complicate the characters and elevate "10 Cloverfield Lane" above your average series of thrills.
Although both Goodman and Gallagher, Jr. deliver excellent performances, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the most impressive in the role of Michelle. Far from your average "scream queen" she is resilient, resourceful, and fiercely determined to discover the truth. In many horror/thriller movies, the protagonist does stupid stuff all the time. Like going into the empty house or looking around the sketchy corner to investigate a strange noise. Michelle rises above these annoying faults and it is refreshing to watch. Throughout the story she never believes anything that the audience wouldn’t and reacts to perilous situations with the efficiency of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon).
Perhaps the most effective aspect of “10 Cloverfield Lane” is its use of sound. The movie is relatively quiet most of the time. There are a few songs played on the jukebox and some light rumblings outside the bunker. It is the judicious use of loud noises that make the slamming of door, the banging of a table, or the discharge of a gun sound so loud and so shocking. A movie I reviewed last year called “Sicario” starring Emily Blunt shared the same mastery of suspense through sound. The loud noises are crucial to the thrills in “10 Cloverfield Lane” and they don’t disappoint. While the final act of the movie was somewhat dissatisfying, “10 Cloverfield Lane” defies your typical sequel and results in an innovative and entertaining thriller.
OP-ROB NOTE: The actor who plays Emmet, John Gallagher, Jr., is also in a movie called "Short Term 12" starring Brie Larson. It's on Netflix if you get bored and need something awesome to watch.