10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): A Nearly Perfect Thriller That Chokes at the End

10 Cloverfield Lane

   “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a nearly perfect “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” type movie as so much of what makes it work is subverting expectations of a reality and telling a personal story through the eyes of a single person. This story would have been a 10 / 10 if not for what it does at the very end. Also, this is not a sequel to “Cloverfield.” This is a story that stands individually and isn’t connected to the other film at all, “Cloverfield” is more of a marketing way of connecting an anthology of these type of films from what I understand…though if they choose to do a sequel they could keep going the anthology route or make them all connected within the universe as a whole. Non-spoiler thoughts before my review. You should see this film, even though the problem I have in the 3rd act brought it down from perfect to merely great.

   The film was directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle and produced by J.J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber.

      The story involves Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is running away from her fiance when she is ran off the road and wakes up chained in a bunker. From here she must figure out what happened to the outside world and why Howard (John Goodman), the owner of the bunker and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), someone who fought to enter the bunker that he helped make.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros: Tone and Tension – The tone is dark and there is an aura of threat throughout the film, from the cramped nature of the bunker…to the threat of Howard and his constant entitlement on those around him as he sees them as only existing for him. You never feel safe with the character and the outside world is threat too…making it a lose lose situation for the characters we follow.

Cinematography – Jeff Cutter is great at cinematography…this is a film that focuses on the individual and personal, the trapped and wanting to be free from that cramped space. The use of dark and light capture that wonderfully and the bunker and outside world never stop feeling like a cage until the very end.

Soundtrack – Bear McCreary is one of my favorite directors and he is a master at using music to create tension. From his work in “The Walking Dead,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” this is a guy who owns the darker soundtrack, and this film captures that brilliantly.

The Bunker – The bunker is awesome. It shows us Howard’s humanity and the threat of this person too, as we see his collection of DVDs and VHSs and how the family room looks like a family room. We also see how it is a prison too as Michelle’s room looks like an actual prison and Emmett doesn’t even have a room. This is Howard’s playground and he is the Warden of their prison.

The Mystery – The mystery is two-fold. Who is Howard and why did he knock Michelle off the road? What happened to the outside world? What was the event? Over the course of the film we learn Howard is most likely a pedophile murder, definitely a murder as he kills Emmett when Emmett says he tried to steal his gun to impress Michelle and aliens are invading the outside world, proving one of Howard’s conspiracy theories true. The reveals are handled so well and it built slowly over time.

Emmett – Emmett built the bunker and had to fight to get into it as he built it for Howard. This was a free living guy and we learn that he is full of regrets but is capable of being present with  people and living for more than himself. He is the one who tries to help Michelle escape and gives his life to help her escape. John Gallagher Jr. really did a great job.

Howard – Howard is the antagonist and is creepy and human. He is most likely a pedophile murder as Michelle discovers “HELP” written from the inside of one of the escape hatches and he sees Emmett and Michelle as entitled to him. He is toxic, even though he is given human moments too as we see him connect to Michelle at a few points as he describes her as his daughter, though we never know if he’s telling the truth and that works. This is a character who is broken and it is hard to pin down the full reasons why. Him creating the Bunker makes complete sense, and it takes a lot for Michelle to beat him and escape. John Goodman better get a nomination for this. He deserves it.

Michelle – Michelle is our hero and who begins the story running away from her relationship but over the course of the film chooses to stop running and stand…from making a gas mask and suit to protect from radiation on the outside and her fighting Howard and using all her skills to get out and finally making the choice to join the human Resistance in rebellion against the aliens. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an amazing job. I felt for everything she was going through and seeing her growth through the film is handled so well.

The Cons: The Alien Fight – This was stupid. The aliens have a boring look, where they are a mouth and that is it and they have bioships. The fight goes on way too long and happens right after she escapes the house. Seriously, there was no reason for this fight to happen. Michelle had gained control of her life already when she rebelled against Howard’s control and made her own escape. The fight serves no purpose, she already fought Howard, let her reward be that she chooses to fight on without having to deal with the aliens the moment she escapes the Bunker.

 This was a film that would have made the Top 5 I think, if not for that alien fight at the end. She was out of the house. Her being free should have been the point, as she could have learned about the Resistance in the Bunker and it would have set things up better so she still drives to Houston. Instead we get a pointless fight versus the fight against Howard, which was the one that mattered. I would still recommend this film, it truly is great…but it chokes at the end and that is why I will only score it as a solid great. This is a film that could have been perfect, but falls merely to great.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

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