Let’s take a big budget special effects shaky cam Godzilla inspired monster movie featuring colossal destruction and make a pseudo-sequel that is a small tense thriller set in a bunker featuring only three characters. Yeah, that makes sense.
The creators of 10 Cloverfield Lane have danced around just how connected it is to the first Cloverfield movie. One can certainly assume that’s because to reveal too much could spoil plot points, and that certainly is true. But they also were cagey about it because it is in fact only tangentially related at best. In fact there is no reason to see the first one at all. One could come into this one cold and still get everything they need to know. So why even link this movie to Cloverfield? I can’t imagine the Cloverfield name holds much sway with the movie going public. Are they setting up an anthology style series of movies that share similar aspects of other worldliness, ala The Twilight Zone? Or maybe it was just a marketing ploy to get some buzz.
All of those questions ultimately are moot though because the movie we have is a quality thriller that stands on its own merit apart from previous films or marketing. As soon as audience surrogate Mary Elizabeth Winstead finds herself in a mysterious bunker being told that the outside world came under some kind of massive chemical attack and is no longer safe the movie repeatedly and expertly ratchets tension up and then provides a brief catharsis. The movie constantly has you guessing what is true and what isn’t and builds to a climax that I literally was on the edge of my seat for. It also features the single scariest game of Password ever.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a solid performance. Even though this movie is not filmed POV style like the first one was we are still very much locked to Winstead’s character; we only ever know what she knows and see what she sees. Thus the pressure was on for her to deliver. A poor performance in that role could have been ruinous. I also appreciate that her character isn’t “dumb” like characters sometimes are in movies like this. She is smart, strong, and fights to get through her situation. More, she is not strong in a “girl power, yeah!” kind of way, nor is her arc to go from damsel in distress to self savior. She is strong and intelligent from the word go and it’s simply a fact of her character. The arc she DOES have is a little simple and straightforward, but everything else in the movie is good enough for me to forgive that.
If Winstead grounds the movie as our hero John Goodman steals the show. As the doomsday preparer that built the bunker he wonderfully walks the line between an eccentric lonely man who has the best intentions at heart and an unhinged monster that makes you think whatever is up there on the surface, if anything, it can’t be as bad as this guy. It’s an incredible performance that can make you laugh one moment and fear his wrath the next.
Then we come to the ending. Avoiding specific spoilers, the final ten minutes of this small three character pressure cooker feels like a completely different style of movie. I can’t decide if that irks me or if I kind of love it? On the one hand it’s such a stark tonal shift that one could say that it simply doesn’t fit and a more homogenous style of ending would have been better. On the other hand it has a very “out of the frying pan” element that just raises the stakes even more and gives the audience a payoff that these kinds of mysteries rarely do. In the moment, while watching it, I was having a great time.
10 Cloverfield Lane is the directorial debut of Dan Trachtenberg, at least as far as major motion pictures go. He’s a guy I’ve followed off and on since watching the Totally Rad Show years ago. It’s great to see him get his big break, and even better to see him really knock it out of the park. I look forward to seeing what he does next.
Bonus! Dan Trachtenberg also directed the short film Portal: No Escape. Go watch it, it’s neat!
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Pixels – This movie is colossally not funny. At all. And that’s coming from someone who actually kinda likes Adam Sandler on average. The only compliment I was going to give it is that I DO like the concept of old school video games invading and turning things into pixels, or voxels if we’re getting nerdy and technical. But then I saw in the credits that this is based on a short film. So the only good thing in Pixels is taken from its source material. Do yourself a favor, skip this and go watch that fun short film instead.
Halo: The Fall of Reach – This computer animated movie based on the Halo video game franchise tells the story of super soldier John-117’s conscription into service and early years. It’s purely a marketing tie in and the overall quality feels as such. The animation and story is plain. The only decent performance comes from long time star of the video games Jen Taylor as Dr. Halsey. Steve Downes also reprises his role as the adult Master Chief, but he’s barely in this flashback story. Only hardcore Halo fans need apply. (That means me.)
Self/less – Terminal Ben Kingsley has his memories planted into test tube grown Ryan Reynolds, but when he learns that his new body in fact had a previous life of its own, drama ensues. And bullets. And fire. And car crashes. When you have a body swap movie you always look for the two actors taking on each other’s mannerisms. Unfortunately Kingsley isn’t in much of this to establish character traits so once the swap happens I never really see anything but Ryan Reynolds and his usual charismatic self. His usual, handsome yet approachable self. His dreamy, charming smile, mischievous twinkle in his eye yet still a good guy at heart self. ….. Sorry, I got lost there for a minute. So what we’re left with is an average action movie that uses a sci-fi setup to ask moral quandaries about the nature of the self with a dash of flamethrowers. If that’s your thing, you could do worse.
Kill Me Three Times – This small Aussie crime film tries to use it’s non-chronological storytelling and “big get” Simon Pegg to punch up a script that still falls flat. Piecing together the hows and whys of who is killing who still isn’t that fun if I don’t enjoy a single one of the characters. The victim is nothing more than that, a victim, and even Pegg is playing things mostly straight. For as much blood around as there is this thing is pretty bland.
One Eyed Monster – While filming an adult movie Ron Jeremy encounters an alien force that causes his penis to detach itself from his body and mutate into a creature whose only desire is to impregnate others with its alien seed. I’m not making this up. The acting and effects are as awful as you’d expect but it’s all kind of tongue in cheek and fun. The jokes get a few crass laughs but aren’t good enough to warrant the already short 80 minute run time. But if you’re the kind of person who read that plot summary and thought “Well I HAVE to see that,” well you’ve already made your poor life choice. And we should hang out.