10 Cloverfield Lane: Prepare for Discomfort

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Are you prepared? Originally the headline referred strictly to the film, but then I decided I’m going to change up these posts a little bit. And then I realized that might also result in some discomfort. Hopefully a bearable amount.

Now generally speaking, I’ve never been one to actively seek out scary movies. But even with that being the case, there’s no way I was the only audience member who was simultaneously tense, squirming in my chair, and suffering from shallow breathing throughout the entire film. While veteran horror fans may try to convince me they were unfazed by 10 Cloverfield Lane, I don’t buy it. The film is a full-on assault.

It’s an assault on the idea of humanity. It’s an assault on your psyche. It’s an assault on your ears. And I loved it.

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The high-level overview is this: Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is in a car accident, she wakes up in a bunker with Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), and is told she can’t leave because the outside world is unsafe due to a chemical and/or nuclear attack that wiped everyone out.

Even at face value, that story should seem fishy if you’re Michelle. Add on top of this the fact that she wakes up with her broken leg chained to the wall in a room with a latched steel door, and you might understand why she’s not ready to blindly accept Howard’s description of events. (Having recently watched Room, I tended to share Michelle’s wariness.)

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Howard, for his part, does little to dissuade this skepticism. He has a short fuse and the expected temperament of a man who’s been warning people of the apocalypse for years without ever being taken seriously. HE’S the good guy. HE saved Michelle. SHE should be grateful. Or so he rants.

Complicating the matter still further, an also-injured Emmett seems to confirm Howard’s telling of events, despite the fact that they’re less than chummy. But Michelle has to see for herself.

The problem being, she might not like what she sees. When neither story seems to fully line up, the paranoia and feeling of helplessness grows – for both Michelle and the audience. (Not to mention the claustrophobia.)

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10 Cloverfield Lane has got a ton going for it, so we’ll start with the most obvious of the lot. Fan-favorite movie man/person J.J. Abrams is back to guide the overarching story as a producer, the same role he held on the loosely associated predecessor Cloverfield. After Cloverfield’s surprising success ($170+ million worldwide), many had been wondering when a sequel would emerge.

Full disclosure: I’ve never seen the found-footage predecessor Cloverfield (described on IMDb.com as “A group of friends venturing deep into the streets of New York on a rescue mission during a rampaging monster attack.”), but I’ve been told that it doesn’t dilute, and possibly adds to, the experience of 10 Cloverfield Lane. This may be because 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t really a sequel so much as a parallel film set in the same universe. The script was originally written as an unrelated standalone film, and then somewhat retroactively adapted to fit the Cloverfield story. Don’t worry, it’s in no way forced or disjointed.

Aside from any brilliance Abrams may lend, the film is really driven by great performances from Goodman, Winstead, and Gallagher.

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Goodman delivers a performance almost equal parts terrifying and entertaining (but terrifying wins out). He’s a ticking time bomb stuck in a bunker, and you catch glimpses throughout of him on the cusp of exploding.

Winstead creates a truly strong female lead, and it stands out all the more because she isn’t forced to compromise and rely on the assistance of a male character, as are so many other female leads. Her performance is visceral and smart, but the greatest aspect of her character and delivery is the persistent defiance. Even if she doesn’t know exactly what’s going on, she refuses to go quietly.

Gallagher’s approachable and somewhat pitiable portrayal offers an effective plot catalyst, but also a character constant. His unexpected inclusion ensures that the plot keeps moving toward an eventual confrontation, and at the same time he offers the only character that you feel you have entirely figured out.

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Dan Trachtenberg delivers a must-see in his major directorial debut, taking advantage of a more traditional, enveloping technique than the first-person look of Cloverfield. I’d say more, but I’d probably just embarrass myself. Suffice it to say that the fact that I have no memorable directing flaws in mind means it was shot well.

Bear McCreary and the entire sound department, my hats off to you. Loud, harsh, and always on cue, the music and sound built my anxiety as much as anything else. Plus, it’s been a week and I’m still humming “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James & The Shondells.

I’d be remiss not to mention that while hair-raising on the whole, there are recognizable instances of added levity and awkward jokes for which I was incredibly grateful.

Pluck up your courage, bolster your constitution, and empty your bladder. Then go see 10 Cloverfield Lane.

 

4.5/5 reels

PG-13

103 min

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

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

US Release: March 11, 2016, Paramount Pictures, Bad Robot

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