Reeling it In: “10 Cloverfield Lane”

“10 Cloverfield Lane”

Paramount Pictures

1 hour, 43 minutes

 

 

This week’s film marks a rare occasion for me. In the days before the internet, it was possible to go see a movie without knowing anything about it ahead of time. It’s still possible, but only if you don’t own a computer, TV, phone, or you’re going to a midnight screening of an obscure Dutch experimental film.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is the exception to the rule. I’d seen a trailer once, and that was about it. This movie kind of snuck up on everyone, and I think that’s how producer J.J. Abrams likes it. It’s not that the movie was created in secret. Director Dan Trachtenberg was working under the tentative title “Valencia” for most of the filming. It was only when the title was changed and a trailer was released, teasing a tenuous, at best, connection to the found footage monster movie “Cloverfield” of several years ago, that people started to take notice. I have to say, it’s pretty cool to go in to a movie like this one blind. So thanks, J.J.

I’ll say right up front that I liked the movie and, despite a few minor flaws, found it to be a compact and surprising thriller with some great acting on display. If you don’t want to know more than that, quit reading now and go buy a ticket. Otherwise, I’ll elaborate. The movie opens with Mary Elizabeth Winstead who you might remember from “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” if you were one of the five people who saw that excellent and underrated film. Winstead plays Michelle who we meet on her way out of town, obviously running from some relationship trouble or another. Suddenly (and shockingly), Michelle’s car is in a terrible accident. When she next opens her eyes, she finds herself on a dirty mattress in a dingy cinder block room, one leg chained to the wall. An IV runs from her arm to a saline bag on a holder next to the bed. Has she been kidnapped? Is she under someone’s care? There are no answers and Michelle is understandably freaked out. And then a grizzled, angry John Goodman enters and manages not to soothe her at all.

Eventually, Howard (Goodman) reveals that this is a bomb shelter and that some kind of attack has occurred in the outside world. Also trapped inside is Emmett, a simple local boy who corroborates Howard’s story. But who is Emmett? Who is Howard, for that matter? And what is really happening outside the locked and sealed outer door?

I liked everything about the actual film that is “10 Cloverfield Lane.” The acting is excellent, and the small cast and tight quarters make possible the kind of mounting tension we saw in films like “Ex Machina.” Goodman is especially good, his moods swinging wildly from bemused grandpa to violent rage. Winstead is also very good, displaying strength and vulnerability in equal measure. John Gallagher Jr., who plays Emmett, is an actor I hadn’t seen before, but I imagine we’ll see more of after this. He reads as kind of a scragglier Jason Sudeikis — funny, but with a little bit of an edge. The three actors play well together and the film, short as it is, never flounders for the lack of supporting characters. The directing by Dan Trachtenberg, previously known for short films, mostly, is pretty remarkable considering the limited, compact space there is for filming. The film feels a little claustrophobic, by design, but it’s never boring and the shots are visually appealing and interesting.

Really, the main problem with the movie is the title. It’s not that I’m against hinting at a connection between this film and the original “Cloverfield,” though to be honest, I didn’t find one. It could be that it exists in the background – in a radio broadcast or in the mention of an unseen character, but I think Abrams is attempting to use the title more as a modifier for a type of movie. Kind of like saying “A film from the Twilight Zone.” That’s all well and good, but (and I’m assuming if you didn’t want even minor spoilers you quit reading a while ago) it takes some of the zing out of the eventual surprise. It’s almost as if “The Sixth Sense” had been called “Hauntingly Good Therapy.”

Speaking of M. Night Shyamalan, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is reminiscent of that director’s films when they were still good. Or maybe I should say that director’s film. Let’s hope Dan Trachtenberg who, based on the excellent reception this film is getting, is about to be the toast of Hollywood, doesn’t fall into the same trap as his predecessor.

Grade: A-, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is rated PG-13 for language and violence.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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