Film & TV

Film Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t really a Cloverfield film, but then it sorta is. It’s not a hefty great beastie wasting civilisation, its three people in cramped confines wondering if there is a hefty great beastie outside. As does the audience. It shares little formally or narratively with its found-footage Kaiju predecessor, but then the idea that this series has any consistent through-line  or requires one, or could even have one considering this is only the second, is bogus. The former was a flashy early example of viral marketing and transmedia storytelling of the Blair Witch ilk, for many all style and no substance. Likewise here there’s a degree of Barnum bunkum about the origins of this, and how it ultimately became Cloverfield brethren, but content-wise it’s very much the inverse.

After the briefest possible above-ground character establishment, we’re run off the road with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), witnessed from inside the car, itself establishing our consistently restricted perspective on things. Even though we’d only be stuck underground in Howard (John Goodman’s) protective/ensnaring apocalypse bunker anyway, we’re not leaving her side, uncomfortably close to the dangers but too far removed to be able to make sense of whether her saviour is in fact that.

Whereas Cloverfield was defined and viewed (to the point of obfuscation) through its handheld found-footage conceit, 10 Cloverfield Lane is notable for the opposite – formally straightforward, its simplicity is functionality, never distracting from the central questions of trust at the film’s core. From the outside every technical, framing or editing decision works to situate the viewer in a comfortable, familiar space. Hell, there’s even a musical montage. Of course, there’s consequently something very unnerving about this external reassurance that everything’s fine, everything’s as it should be, when all the internal events are leading us (You, Me and Michelle) to believe otherwise.

Similarly, there’s something subversive about taking a monster movie franchise (is that what this is?) and moving indoors. You thought barely seeing the monster through poor in-movie camerawork was novel? Try not knowing if there even is one. One thing which held consistent with the original was even despite a lack of clear view till the end, the sense of scale was intact, the expansiveness of this world and its opportunity for chaos. Here in the little makeshift house on 10 Cloverfield Lane, we’re desperately hoping nobody takes too long in the bathroom. There’s just no room to fight, and nowhere to go to cool off.

Thus we’re left with a gradually rising temperature in a climate of distrust, mistrust and no trust, as secrets are realistically and methodically unearthed. Every brief relieving of steam doesn’t do much to stem the claustrophobic oppressiveness (trailer 1’s climactic sequence is thankfully relatively early in proceedings), and by the time the large vat of acid is dragged out, the moral is clear – this may not be as showy or expensive as crash bang wallop, but simmer hiss burn is much more upsetting, much more effective, and more totally destructive.

In essence, the best quality of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the ‘series’ entire, is how it shows to all intents and purposes (potentially) the same subject – end of the world brouhaha – through two extremes. Cloverfield was all Ex. External. Extroverted. Explosive. This is Insular. Inventive. Insidious. Here it doesn’t really matter whether or not there’s an actual monster. People are quite capable of destroying each other themselves, thanks.

The Verdict

If I had to spend 24 hours in the company of Goodman’s Howard or the original monster, I’m picking Clover. And that’s a good thing.

Tom Watchorn

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One Comment
  • Winstead
    25 December 2016 at 16:38
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    This is one of the most sophisticatedly written, powerfully acted, & genuinely creepy films of the last decade that by credits roll, indeed begs the question…which monster is the most terrifying? Goodman offers the performance of his career as Norman, who can be both eerily endearing & downright deranged flawlessly within seconds of each other. Winstead is equally remarkable as the involuntary heroine who demonstrates an authentic blend of bravery, resourcefulness, & abject fear. The appropriately small cast is rounded out by Gallagher, who provides a discomforting levity to such a bizarrely claustrophobic & unsettling situation. In an age of blockbuster messes, this is what all silver screen offerings should aspire to be; amazing effects that don’t oversell themselves & a brilliant script that achieves several rarities. First; creating actual, unpredictable suspense with twists & turns that, when they impact, do so, like a freight truck with its brake line cut. Second; utter audience engagement & investment into characters whose unknown fates remain intact until the precise moment they are effortlessly and perfectly executed. Finally; it delivers deeply disturbing inferences that are far more horrifying than what is actually visually revealed; an extremely impressive feat in this CGI-laden dumbed down era of assembly line cinema. In a world of social media diarrhea, Abrams has become a master of covert movie tactics and this latest endeavor is a prime example of his effectiveness. In addition to all the successes listed, he completes his achievement by leaving open two definitive possibilities. That this event occurs simultaneously with this first film without becoming either a prequel or sequel as he originally touted many moons ago. And, leaving ambiguous room for another installment, which like this, can take this blossoming franchise in any direction JJ’s miraculously creative heart desires.

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