10 CLOVERFIELD LANE – The Review
So, when is a sequel not technically a sequel? This new film offers a crafty spin on a Hollywood staple. Let’s see, we’re now well aware of the prequel, a follow-up to a hit film usually made when the original seems to complete the story. Actually one of the stars of this flick was in one such prequel a couple of years ago, dealing with the events that occur immediately prior to the 1982 horror/SF classic THE THING (also shared the same title). There have also been the spin-off flick in which supporting characters have taken center stage in a new tale. THIS IS 40 featured the third and fourth leads from KNOCKED UP. Just last year we had MINIONS, which was a spin-off and a prequel to the DESPICABLE ME movies. Now we have a film that could be a new category, we might say that it’s “set in the world of…” or “sharing the universe of…”. The world in question is the one last seen in 2008’s surprise smash CLOVERFIELD, which put a new spin on “giant monster destroys city” genre by using “found” digital footage. There’s no characters from the earlier film, and it’s not set in NYC (plus they’re using a tripod-yeah!). Instead it wonders what was going on after the attack in a different US state. Specifically in Louisiana at 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.
The action begins with a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) quickly packing up her belongings and leaving her apartment (undaunted by a slight tremor). Soon she’s driving out of the city while ignoring the pleading cell phone calls from her boyfriend/fiance Ben. Stopping for gas, Michelle notices that nobody’s working at the station. When a pickup truck pulls in, she hastily finishes filling her tank and speeds away. Just moments later on the road, her car is sideswiped by some other vehicle and rolls down an embankment. She then awakens to find herself in a spartan room, lying on a mattress while hooked up to an IV. Her cuts are bandaged and her busted leg is in a brace…and chained to the wall. The thick metal door opens to reveal a big, middle-aged man carrying a tray of food. This is Howard (John Goodman) who explains that he rescued her from the crash and has brought her to the fortified, air-controlled, sealed bunker beneath his farm. When Michelle pleads to leave, he explains that the world is under attack, and that the outside air is toxic. Soon she meets another bunker resident: twenty-something Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who is nursing a broken arm. Another auto accident? As time passes, Michelle’s mind is full of questions. How long before the poison air drifts away? Can either man truly be trusted? Is Howard really her savior or is he actually her captor?
The talented Ms. Winstead (who should have gotten an Oscar nod for SMASHED) confidently carries the dramatic weight of this story on her shoulders. We’re rooting for Michelle from the very start of her fateful journey. Winstead conveys the young woman’s confusion without uttering a bit of dialogue. She uses her eyes and body language to great effect later as she must hurriedly come up with a plan of action (we imagine her brain in overdrive) or communicate an idea to Emmett. Gallagher turns this laid back “good ole’ boy” into an unlikely hero and a most sympathetic confidant to Michelle. His droll observations and stories (love his tattoo regrets) inject much-needed humor into the grim situations. The film’s biggest surprise is the energetic inventive performance by John Goodman as the group’s father-like control freak. He easily keys into his affable everyman persona, whose wild conspiracy theories have a goofy charm. But this big teddy bear of a guy can morph into a fierce growling grizzly at the drop of a hat (actually at the wrong gesture or word). This may be his most complex and menacing work aside from his Coen brothers characters. After the lackluster LOVE THE COOPERS, it’s great to see Goodman giving such an original performance. With more than thirty years in features and TV under his belt, he can still catch audiences off guard. Goodman is very good indeed.
First time feature director Dan Trachtenberg makes an impressive debut with this thriller. His cameras glide about the tight spaces seamlessly, never going for claustrophobia until a harrowing crawl through the air ducts (they’re never good-sized in the movies). Plus he’s able to sustain a feeling of isolation, dread, and mystery until the final fade out. The bursts of tense, taut action are enhance considerably by the editing of Stefan Grube and the expert score from Bear McCreary, who can go from bombastic to subtle within seconds. PG-13 horror thrillers have gotten a bad rep from genre fans lately, but this film reminds us that the right creative team can deliver with any rating, just as with THE SIXTH SENSE. With echoes of THE COLLECTOR, MISERY, and recent Oscar winner ROOM (the bunker window is almost a match for that film’s shed portal), this work is a very different, but still potent companion piece to the 2008 hit. If you’re in the mood for pulse-pounding suspense, then set your multiplex GPS to 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.
4.5 Out of 5