Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.
I was less enamored of Cloverfield than a lot of people. I’m not in love with the found footage “genre” as a whole, and I have real issues with shaky-cam if it goes on too long. The story was interesting once it got started, but I didn’t see it as the sort of revelation that a lot of people did. So, when a spiritual sequel in 10 Cloverfield Lane came out, I didn’t rush off to see it. I mean, I knew right away that it wasn’t going to be the same movie as the first one and that it wasn’t really a sequel at all, but I can’t say I was terribly excited by the prospect.
Things start with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packing up a few things and leaving her apartment. It’s clear a few moments later that she is leaving her boyfriend/husband/whatever. We’re not sure why; in fact, we’re never sure why. This doesn’t matter. Out of nowhere, a car strikes her vehicle and Michelle is knocked unconscious.
She awakens in a small room with an IV bag hooked up, her leg in a brace, and the brace handcuffed to the wall. It’s clear that she has been abducted, and clearer when she notices the door of her room looks like something belonging in a prison or a torture chamber. Eventually her putative captor, Howard (John Goodman) enters the room and tells her that the above-ground world has suffered a terrible cataclysm. She is in his underground bunker along with a third person named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.).
Initially, Michelle is naturally suspicious of everything that is going on, but Emmett begins to confirm some of the wild stories related by Howard. While the world outside looks normal, there is no traffic in the area and Howard’s pigs are horribly mangled outside of the bunker. The sudden appearance of one of Howard’s neighbors, covered in lesions, only reinforces that something terrible has happened. There is no cellphone service and no radio traffic, either. Howard is convinced that it is something like a nuclear strike and that the outside world is unsafe for at least a year, possibly longer because of radioactive fallout.
Life falls into a pattern until, of course, it doesn’t. Howard frequently talks about his daughter, but Michelle and Emmett discover that the “daughter” was actually a woman who disappeared from the area several years earlier. When fixing a problem in the air vents, Michelle discovers a plea for help scratched on the inside of one of the windows and also discovers an earring. Worried of what Howard’s paranoia and evident insanity might mean for them, Michelle and Emmett begin attempting to put together a biohazard suit from materials around the bunker in the hopes of escaping.
10 Cloverfield Lane does a lot of things right, but doesn’t completely hit on all cylinders. The problems come entirely in the end, and more specifically in the last 10-15 minutes. We can guess that either Michelle or Emmett (or both) are going to get out of the bunker at some point. What happens when this occurs goes on for too long and doesn’t fit in thematically with the rest of the movie. In fact, these closing moments almost feel like something cobbled together to build a connection to the original Cloverfield. It doesn’t fit with how tense and claustrophobic the first hour and change is, and it lessens the impact of the entire movie.
That’s too bad, because the first two acts are excellent. There are some tense moments and interesting dynamics between the characters, and things build slowly and in realistic and disturbing ways over the course of the film. The relationships between the characters feel real in a lot of ways based on the situation they are in. All three of the main roles (and really, aside from the brief appearance of the neighbor and Bradley Cooper saying a few things over the phone early in the film, there are only three characters here) are handled well. John Goodman is particularly good, evidence that he is a far more versatile actor than he is frequently credited with being.
It’s a shame to say this, but 10 Cloverfield Lane would work better with a rewritten closing and without any tie to the original Cloverfield. Of course, it also wouldn’t have received the audience it did without that connection, tenuous as it is. While downgraded by its third act, it’s still a movie worth seeing.
Why to watch 10 Cloverfield Lane: Claustrophobia done right.
Why not to watch: The ending doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie in any way.