Sunday, March 20, 2016

"10 Cloverfield Lane" (2016)

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr.
Written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Rated PG-13 — Violence, language, frightening images
Running Time: 103 Minutes

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) hits the road, running from her potential marriage for reasons unknown. But after night falls, a pickup truck runs her off the road and she awakens chained to a wall in a fallout shelter built by Howard (John Goodman) who insists that the world outside has been decimated by some kind of attack.

The third member of their little group is Emmett, a former high school track star who helped Howard construct his shelter. But Emmett and Michelle start to notice the cracks in Howard's story. And Howard's behavior grows increasingly unhinged, despite his protestations that he's simply looking out for everyone's best interests.

Michelle and Emmett hatch a plan for escape, but can they outwit Howard? And what kind of world is actually waiting for them outside?

Color me surprised. While I was a fan of the original found-footage "Cloverfield" film, I know that it's highly polarizing — people either loved it or loathed it. While there's actually very little here to connect the two films, I still wasn't sure what to think going into "10 Cloverfield Lane" but this movie is good.

Firstly, it's an extremely small film. There are literally only four people in it, and one person you only hear over the phone and another heard on the radio. That's it. Otherwise, it's just our three main characters and the only location besides the opening shots of Michelle's apartment and her road trip is inside the bunker. Director Trachtenberg does a good job helping us understand the geography of the bunker, so we're always sure where we are within it.

The great thing here is really the marriage of a solid script with some really good performances. In particular, John Goodman is great as Howard the conspiracy nut. It's really great how the film plays with whether or not Howard is crazy or evil, and Goodman plays Howard in a very sincere manner that makes him alternately sympathetic and menacing. A scene with the three of them playing a guessing game is particularly tense, and when the moment passes there's a palpable sense of relief for both the characters and the audience, and much of that is a credit to Goodman's line delivery in this scene.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead holds her own, and the character of Michelle is written in a particularly pleasing fashion, as well. She's shown to be thoughtful, decisive and capable. When she first awakens in Howard's bunker, she's chained to the wall with her cellphone sitting on the floor across the room, out of reach. She quickly figures out a way to get it, however, and not long after that is already coming up with a couple different plans to get Howard to unlock the door so she can attempt escape. Winstead is good at playing Michelle as someone who takes in her surroundings and then decides how to act. In one scene as the three are eating dinner, she takes a moment to consider Howard's request that she and Emmett stop talking during dinner and never touch each other and then she acts on it, and her though process comes across clearly.

There are a number of really good, tense scenes in this film. Everything is shot and edited confidently, and a film taking place in a bunker could easily be visually uninteresting but it's not. Each area of the bunker is distinct, and even Michelle's bare-walled bedroom ends up having a bit of personality of its own.

Of course, it's a "Cloverfield" movie, so the ending is completely bonkers compared to what came before. If you know what that means, then you've probably already figured out where this film is eventually going to go. But it's still really entertaining getting there. Once you're there, though, you as the audience have to decide whether you're on board with it or not. If you're not, you're going to walk out of this film angry. If you are, though, you're probably going to really enjoy this movie even if the climax feels almost like it came from a different movie entirely.

Special note must be made for Bear McCreary's wonderful musical score. Bravo, sir.

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