Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
To discuss 10 Cloverfield Lane (opening today) at any real length, is to spoil it. Is it a sequel to the 2008 found-footage, monster-thriller Cloverfield? Are any of the threats facing our young heroine real? Is there anything that people won't go see that has J.J. Abrams' name attached to it?
Tip-toeing around any specifics (but beware: Minor spoilers to follow), 10 Cloverfield Lane centers on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who when we meet her at the beginning of the movie, seems troubled. There is no dialogue from her in that early scene, just clues as to what might be going on in her life. It's a sort of training sequence for the audience, because much of the movie requires the viewer to look closely at each scene, and pick up on what may seem like the minute details.
Things quickly go wrong for Michelle when she is in a car accident. Unscathed (somehow), she wakes up in a barren room with her leg locked in shackles. Her captor, Howard (John Goodman), is a hard man to get a read on but clearly this is not good. She learns that there is another person staying (?) with Howard, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and the two become friends.
The three appear to be living in some underground bunker designed by Howard, who keeps claiming that he "rescued" Michelle from the horrors of the outside world. She - nobody - is to go outside the bunker. It could be years, Howard says, before they can venture above ground. But making the most of live with Howard is its own horror film, despite whatever is lurking outside. Goodman is always up for juicy roles, and he infects Howard with a measured dose of madness, paranoia and charm, like he does with nearly all of his roles.
This claustrophobic "thriller" is very reminiscent of a J.J. Abrams work (although he did not write or direct this, he is listed as a producer on the film), and thus, can be very frustrating. Like the TV show Lost, the movie finds much more fascination in the questions rather than the answers. It's a bit slow through about the first hour or so, and isn't clever enough to really elevate itself out of the usual genre constraints. There is a hint of Stephen King's Misery, mixed in with the recent (far better) thriller, Room. Michelle uses MacGyver-like skills she didn't even know she had in order to try to thwart her captor, and usually we see what's coming a mile ahead.
Of course though, you must give the fans what they expect at some point (says these filmmakers, anyways). The last half-hour ramps up in very unexpected ways and actually becomes...thrilling (imagine that, for a thriller and all). It also borders on ridiculous, but at least there was life flowing through its veins, when earlier on I was afraid it was flat-lining. The last 30 minutes is the film that the entire movie should have been.
10 Cloverfield Lane isn't necessarily a bad film, it just doesn't live up to the hype. Nor does it ascend to the levels associated with the names it has attached to it: J.J. Abrams or the way-more compelling Cloverfield. It's a film that didn't have to be associated with any previous film and it would have stood on its own at least. After watching Star Wars: Episode VII and now 10 Cloverfield Lane, it's pretty clear to me that J.J. Abrams can no longer be considered a filmmaker...he is more accurately a franchise-builder. He doesn't produce or direct a movie, he clears a path towards more movies.
The sad part about 10 Cloverfield Lane is that the last half-hour only exists, seemingly, to open up a larger world ripe for sequels, a world where self-contained stories are pushed aside to make room for the bigger, ongoing and never-ending picture. To that affect, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a horror movie in the truest sense.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction
Run Time: 1 hours, 45 minutes, Rated
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr., Mat Vairo
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (feature-film debut)
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