I don’t know what dangers wait
Within the dark beyond the door.
Since entering in safety’s gate,
I’ve heard that horrors populate
The world outside and nothing more.
I feel the urge of tempting fate
And venturing where none explore,
But such is not up for debate.
I’m told the danger is too great,
And no one’s looking anymore.
The threats without intimidate,
But those within are growing sore.
And if I realize it too late,
I fear my safety will stagnate
Within the dark inside the door.
MPAA rating: PG-13
Who could have foreseen a follow-up to J.J. Abrams’ 2008 monster movie Cloverfield eight years later, especially when the first trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane was released just two months before its release? I actually haven’t seen Cloverfield yet, but this not-quite-sequel is its own animal, following neither the first’s found-footage style nor apparently any of its characters. Instead, it’s a tense and claustrophobic thriller with only three main characters locked in an apocalyptic bunker.
While many have lauded 10 Cloverfield Lane as an outstandingly pleasant surprise from last year, my praise will be a bit more muted, but I don’t mean to write it off completely. It was indeed a pleasant surprise if for no other reason that no one expected it, and when an unexpected film is as effective as this one, there’s nothing wrong with giving due acclaim to the film and its debuting director Dan Trachtenberg. Particularly praiseworthy are the three central performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, a woman who awakes from a car wreck to find herself trapped underground by a creepily benevolent John Goodman. This Howard gradually explains that some disaster has occurred on the surface, and after rescuing her, he has graciously allowed Michelle and another local named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) to stay in the confined comfort of his well-furnished safe space. The simple but menacing setup is reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan in his heyday, and we’re never quite sure what to believe. Is Howard prudent or just crazy with his conspiracy theories, and are Michelle and Emmett better off staying inside, placating his demands, or trying to escape? Goodman is brilliantly unpredictable here, and even if there’s not a lot of development for the other two, having to deal with him is enough to spark concern for his captives.
For all its strengths, one thing that 10 Cloverfield Lane does not have is much in the way of originality. Many times I was reminded of two similar films: Misery, with John Goodman taking the place of Annie Wilkes’ possessive caretaker, and 2015’s underrated Hidden, where a family resides in an underground bunker in uncertain fear of what lies above. Putting these two concepts together essentially gives you 10 Cloverfield Lane, and even when it breaks free of the bunker for a slam-bang awesome finale, it still had echoes of War of the Worlds and The Terminator. Another point of comparison is Trachtenberg’s 2011 short film Portal: No Escape, which begins very similarly with a woman awaking in an austere cell with no memory of how she got there. It was that short that helped get Trachtenberg enough notice to earn him the director’s chair, so the parallels there aren’t surprising. (The short also proves he’d be a great choice to direct a feature-length Portal movie, and I, for one, hope it’s soon. You can check it out here.)
It’s unfortunate that 10 Cloverfield Lane lacks the originality of Misery or the emotional resonance of Hidden, but even as an amalgamation of prior ideas, it’s an impressively constructed nerve-jangler that balances shock and restraint and turned its world into a viable franchise overnight. With a third Cloverfield-universe film called God Particle slated for this October, there’s no denying the success of 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Best line: (Howard) “People are strange creatures. You can’t always convince them that safety is in their best interest.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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