Mark Reviews Movies

10 Cloverfield Lane


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 3/11/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 10, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie designed to keep us constantly second-guessing everything we see and everyone we meet. We don't see much or meet too many characters here, so it's a fairly limited well to keep returning to throughout the movie. That might explain the filmmaker's apparent need to insert the movie's final revelation, which opens up the story's previously limited ambitions to include a different world, a new conflict, and an entirely altered way of looking at everything that has happened. Forgive the ambiguity. It's necessary, if only because the movie is also designed to keep that last revelation a surprise.

Is the final sequence a cheat? Technically, it's not, because there are hints throughout the movie that it's possible, but then again, there are suggestions that a lot of things are possible here. Is it necessary? No, it definitely is not. This serves as a good reminder that just because a movie can go in a certain direction doesn't necessarily mean it should.

The last sequence does help to put in perspective the rest of the movie's dilly-dallying with and doubling-back on its own intentions and assertions. It's the movie's gamesmanship in a microcosm. Something is assumed. That assumption is challenged. Then, the truth of the matter comes to light, and we realize that the movie is just toying with our goodwill. It's almost an act of bad faith on the part of screenwriters Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle. The screenplay tells us what we need to know and then forces us to doubt that knowledge, and it repeats the process until we get to that resolution, which starts it all over again.

There is a tight sense of internal logic to everything here (until the ending, which throws any semblance of logic out the window), and that keeps the mechanics of the game from becoming too obvious. We know the movie is playing with our suspicions, but it keeps our expectations in check.

In a neat opening that sets the prologue against a kind of musical overture (Director Dan Trachtenberg presents it as a mostly silent sequence, save for Bear McCreary's score, which both tells the story at hand and insinuates something ominous approaching), the story begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) deciding to leave her husband. While driving down a country road in the middle of nowhere, her car goes out of control, leaving Michelle on the side of the road in an upturned vehicle.

Michelle awakens on a mattress with her face bloodied and an IV connected to her arm. She's also on the floor of a small room with an imposing metal door, and her leg is cuffed to the wall. The man responsible for helping/hindering her is Howard (John Goodman), who tells her that no one is coming to help her. She had better appreciate that he saved her life.

There has been an attack, he says, and she is in his doomsday bunker. As far as Howard knows, the air is contaminated from the fallout of the attack, and everyone is dead, except for him, Michelle, and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a neighbor who helped to build the bunker and got to it just after the attack began.

At first, Michelle sees one of two options: Either Howard is lying and, hence, has ill intentions for Michelle, or he is telling the truth and, hence, has saved her life. Of course, there is a third, frightening possibility, from which the movie garners a lot of tension: Howard is telling the truth, and he is still a threat.

That's the most intriguing element here, and it's aided exponentially by Goodman's performance. He's able to make us simultaneously believe and question everything he says and does.

Howard is a paranoid conspiracy theorist who genuinely believes his conspiracies are the truth (which adds another level of doubt to the entire scenario). He thinks this knowledge—or "knowledge"—puts him in a position to help others and makes him regret his inability to save his own daughter, but also note the almost smug self-satisfaction in his smile when he coerces Michelle to thank him for what he has done. He's quick to anger over perceived betrayals, but he becomes almost tearfully nostalgic while watching his daughter's favorite movie. The character may be a villain, but Goodman plays him as man whose convictions have gotten out of hand. Howard is simply incapable of realizing it.

The particulars of the plot move as Michelle and Emmet go back and forth in their determination of which is the more dangerous potential threat: the one inside the bunker or the one outside it. Do they need to escape, and if they do, is that even possible? Winstead is a sympathetic presence as the resourceful Michelle, who knows that she's too afraid to confront problems and now finds herself in a position where she has no choice but to confront them. Gallagher is amusing and earnest as the overly trusting Emmet.

What is happening and has happened in the bunker do eventually come into focus, but without offering any specifics (or even too much by way of generalities), the movie reaches way too far by the end. There's a bigger picture in 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the movie makes a grave miscalculation in making it more than just a background detail.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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