10 Cloverfield Lane: Room for Improvement, by Rudie Obias
It’s rare that a movie just comes out of the blue to surprise eager genre fans. Sure, a smaller movie might come out of the woodwork to surprise audiences and box office pundits, but it’s unlikely that a mainstream movie from a major studio would do the same. About two months ago, a trailer dropped for a movie that no one had ever heard of that was from producer J.J. Abrams and starred incredible Hollywood talents like John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr. It surprised movie fans with its strong visual style and eerie tone. It was even more surprising that it was a would-be sequel to Cloverfield from 2008. 10 Cloverfield Lane succeeds because of its isolated story and intense subject matter and tone, while it also fails when it tries to tie itself to a major blockbuster.
The premise for 10 Cloverfield Lane is simple. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets into an argument with her fiancé and runs away to start a new life. As she’s driving across the state of Louisiana, she gets sideswiped and gets into a terrible car accident that knocks her out. When she wakes up, she finds herself locked in a cold room and chained to a wall. Michelle comes to learn that just before her car accident, the country was under attack from an unknown enemy and she’s underground in a doomsday bunker. A survivalist named Howard (John Goodman) saved her life, as she’s unsure if she should believe and trust him about the new post-apocalyptic world on the outside. She’s joined by Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a lucky survivor who also managed to make his way inside of the bunker just after the surprise attack.
The new movie is certainly effective as a claustrophobic thriller, as you’re put into the same situation as Michelle. She doubts Howard is truthful, so you doubt the same thing. She doesn’t know who to trust, so you don’t know who to trust either. First-time director Dan Trachtenberg does a fine job creating a closed off space with a good sense of geography of the underground bunker. You know exactly where you are at all times, while also knowing where everyone else is too.
The film is appropriately cold and small due to Trachtenberg’s camera and how it moves throughout the space. And oh my, what a space! I couldn’t help but spend most of my time wanting to explore the many movies, books, and board games that fill up every inch of the bunker’s common space. There seems to be a whole world unexplored on those bookshelves and as a culture enthusiast, I just wanted to spend hours diving into it.
The character dynamics are also meaningful because the film has to rely on good and sturdy relationships and characters, instead of big budget spectacle. The problem with 10 Cloverfield Lane comes from its disastrous third act. The movie spends so much time trying to set up a sense of realism with strong characters and situations, but throws it out when the characters all of a sudden become superheroes and villains. The emotional connection I felt to the well-fleshed out characters was severed when they begin to do things that are larger than life and damn near impossible to pull off.
Luckily, there’s enough in the movie to make it an effective thriller, but it completely lacks when it tries to be part of a larger blockbuster. Is 10 Cloverfield Lane a sequel to Cloverfield? Is it part of the same universe? Or is this all part of some clever marketing campaign to get people to buy movie tickets this weekend? From everything in the movie, it certainly seems like it’s the latter and that’s what rubs me the wrong way about the movie. It was already a strong enough film to stand on its own, so why build off the success of a previous blockbuster when it has very little to nothing to do with the movie I’m watching right now. It just seems like an attempt for some easy box office dollars, when the movie was good enough already.