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10 CLOVERFIELD LANE finally explains why that ugly monster was eating New York…

Posted on March 21st, 2016
Posted on March 21st, 2016

by Coop Cooper

Before he singlehandedly took over the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” franchises, producer J. J. Abrams created a bizarre and intriguing air of mystery around his 2008 project “Cloverfield”. He released little information about it, shrouding its plot in secrecy in such a way that set the internet aflame with speculation. In the end, it turned out to be a simple found-footage monster movie with a few interesting surprises thrown in. The current spinoff, “10 Cloverfield Lane” was so secret, nobody even knew of its existence until two months before its release. While not a true sequel to “Cloverfield”, it does enhance the franchise and helps explain a big mystery about the original film.

New Orleans fashion designer, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), obviously in the midst of a bitter breakup, hastily packs and leaves her life/significant other behind and speeds north. She doesn’t get very far before she wrecks and wakes up injured in an underground bunker where a volatile man named Howard (John Goodman) tells her the world above has been destroyed and everyone she knows is dead. Also in the shelter is dim-witted farmhand, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who more-or-less confirms Howard’s story that something catastrophic has happened, but is good-natured and wants to help Michelle. As the unstable Howard gives Michelle and Emmett increasingly dire reasons to escape, the two begin to realize Howard may not be lying about the dangers outside of the bunker.

Some critics are claiming this could be the performance of John Goodman’s career, but few may remember his frighteningly similar role in the “Death Wish” knock-off “Death Sentence” (2007) where he played a creepy arms dealer who had no qualms betraying his own criminal son in favor of a profitable sale. Goodman won’t get an Oscar nomination for his skin crawling role as Howard but it certainly is one he will be remembered for. Mary Elizabeth Winstead once again proves her versatility in taking this physically demanding role when she would just as easily appear comfortable in an indie tearjerker. I’m not very familiar with John Gallagher Jr. other than his small role in the indie drama “Short Term 10”, but he feels more like a blossoming character actor than a future leading man. However, this is an impressive debut by freshman director Dan Trachtenberg whose only other notable effort is a visually impressive short fan film based on the “Portal” video games.

It’s not the best ‘bunker’ movie I’ve ever seen but its definitely the most polished. What sets the film above the rest, besides the high production value and the acting, is the brisk pacing. Only one montage scene shows the monotony of living inside of an enclosed spaced over a period of time. In every other scene, something tense is happening. The beginning of the film seems inspired by the suspense classic “Psycho” where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is on the run after stealing 40 grand and ends up in a worse situation than she was running from. The film borrows ideas like this from multiple movies, but the suspense rarely lets up and it propels the story into a satisfying ending which does justice to the “Cloverfield” brand.

Speaking of ‘bunker’ movies, two others come to mind which are a bit more original, but squarely fall into the indie category. Edgy French director Xavier Gens released “The Divide” in 2011 about a group of strangers who fight for supplies and control in a fallout shelter during a nuclear war. While that film edges more towards the horror spectrum, it feels much more bleak and terrifying than “10 Cloverfield Lane”. Likewise, the 2015 film “Hidden” places a father, mother and a daughter in a bunker, running out of supplies and hiding from some sort of threat hunting them from the surface. While “Hidden” manages a high level of suspense, the real draw is its twist taking an interesting spin on Richard Matheson’s novella “I Am Legend”. Both of these films are at least equal, if not superior to “10 Cloverfield Lane” in story, but neither have the “Cloverfield” franchise’s production value nor its increasingly rich mythology.

The real question everybody wants to know: Are there monsters outside of the bunker? There is something out there and it’s worth the wait to find out what it is, but the best part about this discovery is that it practically explains the events that happen in the original “Cloverfield”. What Michelle finds outside of that bunker is a big clue as to why a giant monster is destroying New York. According to Abrams, “10 Cloverfield Lane” takes place at the same time as the original film. As Michelle flees New Orleans, a newscaster on the radio mentions the entire Eastern seaboard, including New York, has no electricity for an unknown reason, which seems to corroborate this fact. What she finds also sets the stage for a true “Cloverfield” sequel promised to us after the success of the first film, but never delivered. Now that the “Clovierfield” iron is hot, hopefully Abrams will strike it again quickly if he’s not too distracted by Vulcans, Wookies, phasers and lightsabers.

Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5

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