Thursday, 31 March 2016

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Year: 2016
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Screenplay: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken and Damien Chazelle
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman

Synopsis is here:

What a strange beast this is! At first, 10 Cloverfield Lane is tense and taut thriller which coincidentally fits perfectly with the age of Trump. If spiritual predecessor Cloverfield (2007) already established the anxieties of a post 9/11 monster movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane provides us with an intriguing continuation of similar themes. As invasion of the ‘other’ be it otherworldly or otherwise will nearly always help breed paranoid human monsters created on home soil.

Annoyingly, in saying that alone, I may have given away too much. Then again, if 10 Cloverfield Lane wasn’t given the name that it has, then the film wouldn’t have already begun creating certain images in our head. The name alone gives a certain amount of expectation. We’re already on the front foot, with a film that could have easily been a clean and effective standalone thriller.

In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane’s history reveals this to be true. Originating from a low fi spec script called “The Cellar”, it was only when the Bad Robot production team got involved, that the film became a new entry into a created mythology.

What’s created is a struggle of sorts. Most of the films run time is a sharp and enjoyable thriller which relies on two impressive performances from its leads. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle is resourceful and full of agency. Despite being kidnapped, never does the character feel like a victim. Winstead is a dab hand in these types of genre roles, and gives the character a hefty amount enthusiasm to make us care. We’re then given the formidable presence of John Goodman, with the kind of hulking, uneasy display that the actor can do in his sleep. Goodman’s Howard has an answer for everything, despite the fact you may not ever believe what he says. The fear of the character comes, not only from Goodman’s poker face, but from just how swiftly Howard swings into aggression, and the seeming falseness of his pleasantries. A man who consistently claims to his female captive that she’s safe, despite chaining her, drugging her, and posing threats of violence. Give him a fedora. He’d be a “nice guy”.

The struggle begins once the film breaks free of the claustrophobic world it has created. Dan Trachtenberg’s direction within the confines of the underground bunker is tight and precise. There’s nothing flashy and no shot feels wasted. The tension is more than palpable. Then the film’s final fifteen minutes occur, which “fit” when placed in consideration of the film that came before it, yet lack true definition and detail. It’s not that the film leaves us with questions, but more that it gives us bizarre ones which never felt the need to be posed.

This somewhat takes away from the many things 10 Cloverfield Lane does right. Its formidably oppressive antagonist coincidentally fits in with our fear, our neighbors era. Its heroine correctly shows us a strong female character without the stereotypes of a “strong female character”. The film is tense, well-staged and effectively paced. If the film’s climax doesn’t deter you, then you’re on to a winner.