Tuesday, March 15, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane Review

Okay, show of hands. Did ANYONE see this coming?

It seems surreal that I'm talking about 10 Cloverfield Lane. Here was a movie that I'm fairly certain nobody wanted, no one knew existed, and yet it has become one of the most talked about movies of the year based solely on its marketing alone. Here is a movie that was kept under wraps for so long that the announcement of it was just a mere two months ago. The first trailer came out in January, which blew people away. And then adding on to it the fact that it was a sequel to Cloverfield of all things? I'm not here to dis on Cloverfield, but was anyone asking for a sequel to it? Well, here it is, and 10 Cloverfield Lane has turned the series into an anthology series, where each installment is different from the last except for a few key themes and ideas. The themes in question? Scare the hell out of your audience.

So outside of its... incredible vagueness (seriously, two months until release for a high budget movie produced by J.J. Abrams?), 10 Cloverfield Lane is actually a deceptively simple movie. A terrible tragedy happened, and now a woman named Michelle is stuck in a bunker with a large and imposing man named Howard and a redneck hillbilly named Emmett. Howard is convinced that it's the apocalypse and that no one can leave his homemade bunker for at least a year, but Michelle isn't so easily convinced that Howard is right, or even sane.

And that's it. It's just two hours of watching these characters interact in this bunker. If it seems boring on the surface, then I would say you're nuts. I adore premises like this, where multiple characters from various walks of life are put together in one location and just expected to react off of each other. It worked in The Twilight Zone, it worked in Danganronpa, and now it works in 10 Cloverfield Lane because of one reason. John Goodman is a terrifying psychopath.

John Goodman plays Howard, who may seem like a psychopath on the surface, but he has a surprising amount of depth to him. He's a self admitted conspiracy theorist who is certain that whatever happened outside the bunker was caused by either the government, the Russians, the Koreans, or when in doubt, aliens. He's crazy, but we also get several hints of pathos from him. He used to have a nice life with a loving wife and daughter, but something in him snapped, leaving him here in this bunker with no one else to talk to except for two people who think he's out of his mind.

I can't stress enough how much John Goodman is able to hold up the movie. That isn't to say that Mary Elizabeth Winestead and John Gallagher Jr. don't do well in this movie, because they do, but they spend the entire time reacting to Howard and his crazed theories. Without him, the other characters would just be bland and boring characters we've seen a million times. Michelle is running away from her ex boyfriend and becomes trapped in this bunker, but she wants to escape. Emmett is a clueless wide eyed optimist who is just so gosh-darned nice to be around, even though he's an idiot. Howard? He's a Gordian know of insecurities, paranoia, and betrayal all wrapped in a giant, imposing frame.

So if the majority of this movie is just watching the three of them interacting with one another, what else is there to talk about? Well, there's the mood. Has anyone ever heard of the TV show called Solitary? It was one of my favorite reality shows period while it still aired. The central premise was that nine contestants were isolated in their own individual cells for an indeterminate amount of time as they're forced to compete in experiments and contests, not even aware if they've won the challenge or not. Hell, they don't even know how many competitors are left in the game for several episodes. All they have is their little room that they decorate, a bathroom, and a computer named Val that talks to them occasionally to demotivate them. I loved Solitary because it mentally got to all of the contestants at one point or another. They broke down due to the isolation of the game and that fact that they lost time, sleep, and probably sanity because of how long they've been stuck inside of their cells for.

That essence can be felt all over 10 Cloverfield Lane, though obviously not as intensely as Solitary. These three characters believe to know each other, but they're horribly restricted in nearly everything they can do. They don't know the time, Howard controls their meals, they have limited bathroom uses, and the only bits of entertainment they have are magazines, movies, and board games. The best thing about this movie to me is that during its entire runtime, we have no idea how long they're down in the bunker for. Howard says they'd have to stay down for a year or two, but after that, we never hear once about how many days its been or how long they've been there for. That lack of information just builds the tension and the suspense even more until it eventually breaks in several small doses.

But let's not talk about the outstanding middle half of this movie. As with all horror movies of this kind (and for the Cloverfield series as a whole), we should probably discuss the ending and the big twist at the end. I won't spoil it here, but if you know anything about movies like this, you should be able to suss out the ending before it happens. While I won't say it's a very good ending, it's a satisfactory one. After having such an incredible mystery and being locked away with Howard, of course everything would seem like a step down in comparison. It's 15 minutes of action and intensity, but it almost robs the movie of some of its key moments. (MAJOR SPOILERS UP AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. SKIP TO AFTER THE NEXT PICTURE FOR THE REST OF THE REVIEW.)

When Howard gets knocked into his peroxide, I expected some really insane and crazy moments to come from it, but instead, Howard just became everything that we ever expected him to be. He screams like a maniac with his face melting off as he chases Michelle around with a knife trying to kill her. Howard getting dunked in peroxide was a great moment, but seeing him lash about and chase her just felt cheap. Howard lost everything that made him interesting. He was a man who wanted to recreate his perfect family in the bunker and love Michelle like a daughter, going so far as to change his wardrobe and hers for his own delusions. Once he gets dunked though, him trying to kill her and screaming like bloody murder seems cheap and makes him into just another psychopath with a knife who wants to murder the protagonist. You could have replaced Howard with an alien or a monster and you would have gotten the exact same result. Plus when Michelle leaves the bunker only to fight more aliens, while expected,was definitely the least compelling part of the whole movie.

It's funny that coming right of the heels of Zootopia, both movies have the exact opposite problems. Zootopia had a mediocre first half but a stellar ending, while 10 Cloverfield Lane has a stellar first half but a mediocre ending. There's nothing really special to draw out of this comparison, but I just find it funny that both movies have elements of brilliance to them, only to be marred by one major flaw. That being said, I think that 10 Cloverfield Lane is able to come out smelling like roses and isn't really affected much by it's underwhelming ending. That entire middle section of the movie is so good that I don't care if the ending doesn't live up to my expectations. The middle will still be there and isn't reliant on the ending to be seen as good. Besides, the ending feels like a completely different movie anyway in terms of tone and set pieces, so I'm not very torn up about it.

Cloverfield was a very forgettable horror movie that was made popular because of its marketing campaign and the overall mystery of the world. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a great horror movie that used marketing, its cast, its setting, and its premise to suck audiences into its world and force them to live it out with Howard. Despite a few hiccups, I can very easily recommend 10 Cloverfield Lane to horror fans.

Oh, and apparently it's rated Pg-13. Literally would not have guessed that unless I saw it online, which I did.


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