In “Theaters” Now: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Long time, no “see”. Last week was spring break, which turned into spring cleaning (if any of my readers are in their twenties, this is what you have to look forward to (enjoy)) and then I fell into a pretty deep Daredevil-season-2 hole… somewhere in all of that though, I was able to find time to go to my local .theater with a friend. To be honest, I was debating whether or not to write-up 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s not your typical horror movie, but there are definitely horror-movie elements contained within its core. Plus, the movie has stuck with me, so I think I need to write about it. Finally, I received permission (bordering on encouragement) from a couple of people to write it up… so, that’s why we’re here.

Here’s the rub… there’s really no way to write this movie up without talking about major plot points, including its ending. So, in a rare move this write-up will contain MAJOR SPOILERS, starting in the next paragraph. Therefore, if you haven’t seen the movie and you don’t want anything ruined for you STOP READING HERE. I feel like I need one more underlined, italicized, bolded phrase… so no one can come to me whining… here it goes… SERIOUSLY!!!

Okay, now that we got rid of all of those people, let’s get down to it.

Let me begin with the praise… I really liked this movie. I was extremely impressed by the story behind the story as well as the end product. With the instant gratification, spoiler-filled world we live in, it is unbelievably impressive that a major study movie can be produced in near secrecy. Very few people had any idea this movie was even a thing until the trailer came out during the Superbowl. Let’s stop and think about that for a minute… that means film-nerds like myself had only a few weeks to prepare for a nerd-movie. That’s crazy! Okay… okay, I hear you…this has nothing to do with the actual movie itself… but, let me say this, the movie was already starting on good footing when I say down to consume it. Luckily, the movie didn’t disappoint… for the most part. It’s extremely tense. You spend the vast majority of the movie (nearly eighty out of the ninety minutes) trying to figure out if Howard (played by the amazing John Goodman (more on him shortly)) is telling the truth or lying. Here’s the thing… in a brilliant move, we don’t question his sanity. Almost from the jump we know that he is not well, mentally. He is clearly unstable and easy to anger. He also reacts in unpredictable and sometimes hostile ways to seemingly benign events. The question we’re left with then is, is this crazy guy right… did the world really end? This leads to the most enjoyable (and tensest) section of the film: a metaphorical chess match between our two main characters, Howard and Michelle (the equally great Mary Elizabeth Winstead (I wanted to leave the theater and immediately watch Scott Pilgrim versus the World)). Michelle is deceptively smart and cunning and it makes for several terrific scene. Oh yeah, there’s also another guy in the bunker, Emmett (played serviceably by John Gallagher Jr.)… but let’s be honest Emmett servers as a set piece, as much as the bunker. I was riveted by the movie… well, at least for the first eighty minutes of the movie (more on this in a second)… and you really can’t ask for much more than this.

Before that though, I have a quick question: why isn’t John Goodman considered a national treasure… seriously. He makes even the most unwatchable film interesting (see (what I think is) the underrated Kevin Smith film Red State). I can’t imagine anyone else who could make Howard such a complex character. You go from liking to hating back to liking the character in a matter of minutes. Only Goodman could pull this off. He has this comforting charm that disarms you… and that disarming quality makes the movie work… when Howard goes off the rails (and man, does he go off the rails) it is deeply unsettling and unexpected (even though it should have been completely expected).

That leaves us with what didn’t work in the film. Again, I loved this movie, and regardless of what I have to say next, it is absolutely worth a watch… hell, it’s even worth paying to see it. That being said, there was a large chunk of the movie that didn’t work… specifically, the ending (or, at least, it didn’t work for me… or my friends… though, I admit, that’s a relatively small sample). I think part of it comes from the name. How can viewers not think back to the Godzilla-like (but not Godzilla… seriously… they don’t want any lawsuits) creature attacking New York? It’s complicated by the fact that J.J. Abrahams went on the record saying that this is not a sequel to Cloverfield but more of a “blood relative” or “spiritual successor” to that film (to use his words). However, when you put Cloverflied in your title there are certain expectations that must be met. Here’s the problem, the filmmakers painted themselves into a bit of a corner. There were really only two possible outcomes and both are unsatisfying. Let’s with what didn’t happen. Michelle could have gotten out of the shelter to find that the world hadn’t ended. This would have felt like a cheat (especially with certain things that occurred during the film). Obviously, the filmmakers took the only logical path… Howard was right, the world had ended. So, when Michelle gets out of the bunker we suddenly have a very different film on our hands. My friend made the observation that perhaps the film should have ended with Michelle standing on top of the car and realizing the thing coming her way is a spaceship. I agree with this. However, I’m guessing either the filmmakers or the studio felt that audiences would have been asking “where’s the money shot”. So, instead we get Michelle destroying an intergalactic spaceship with a Molotov cocktail (to be fair, I have no proof that the aliens came from another galaxy (in fact, they probably didn’t)). I refer to this as the Signs-problem… sometimes you set up something so thrilling and tense, that there is no good way to bring it to a resolution… so, you overcorrect/overcompensate (see the last ten minutes of Signs). I may be a bit cynical, but I have a feeling that if this was a smaller (read: independent) film it would have ended in a very different way.

Okay… I feel a bit bad ending with this… I loved this movie… I really did…

Well, that’s it for today. Expect to see me again next week with another write-up.

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