Sunday, March 27, 2016

'10 Cloverfield Lane' review

10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the most enigmatic and, frankly, one of the most awesome cinematic experiments in recent years. Billed for months as Valencia or Untitled Bad Robot Project, J.J. Abrams and Paramount shocked everybody by dropping a trailer for this film in front of Michael Bay's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, similar to the way that Abrams announced the arrival of the original Cloverfield in front of Bay's Transformers in 2007. By revealing that the film had the word "Cloverfield" in the title, Abrams delivered a stunner, confirming the film to be a "blood relative" of the beloved 2008 sci-fi flick. The mysterious, chilling trailer mixed haunting music with a tease that "Something's Coming." It was a huge shock and a very pleasant one. At the time, there were only two short months until the film was set to hit theaters, and there were a lot of questions from fans. Is it a sequel? A prequel? A spin-off? Something set in the Cloverfield universe?

Well, to be honest, I don't know if Dan Trachtenberg's brilliant instant classic is any of those things. 10 Cloverfield Lane's connections are loose at best, and non-existent at worst. But with Abrams' goal of creating a new anthology series (think Twilight Zone) with the name "Cloverfield," this new film works in every way. A masterpiece of contained, smart science-fiction, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a Hitchcockian suspense thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. Even with high expectations, this film hits all the right notes. Led by a trio of great performances from John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a nail-biting film of atmosphere and intensity, terrifying and gleefully entertaining in equal measure. It's something that I think will be celebrated for a very long time.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is on the run. As 10 Cloverfield Lane begins, she's packing her bags, collecting what she can, and driving off to somewhere new. Her boyfriend (voiced by none other than Bradley Cooper) calls, begging her to come back. She won't even speak a word to him. She keeps driving. Soon enough, it's late at night, and there's a car that she can't quite shake off her tail. Next thing Michelle knows, she's in a brutal accident. Her car is decimated, and she's knocked out cold. When she wakes up, she's in an empty room. There's no cell phone signal, her leg is in a brace, and she's handcuffed to the wall. Within minutes, a large, gruff man named Howard (John Goodman) walks into the room.

Michelle is terrified. Who is this guy and why is she locked in his basement? She begs Howard to let her go, but he says that he can't. There has been some sort of catastrophe, and the world is no longer safe for humans. Howard tells Michelle that he found her on the side of the road, and when the strike occurred, he saved her life. Also inside the bunker is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a quiet, regretful young man with a broken arm, who tells Michelle that he fought hard to find his way into Howard's fallout shelter. After initial tensions, all seems well in the bunker. But who really is Howard? Is he telling the truth? Or is there something more sinister lying at the heart of this whole thing? Find out in the next episode of The Twilight Zone.

I say that in a slightly joking manner, but honestly, I'd be completely fine if Cloverfield became the new Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In fact, I would be absolutely ecstatic. Give me more movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane. Give me hundreds like it. This is a film that is nearly perfect, so frightening and arresting in almost every way. It's filled with almost unbearable tension- you'll grip your armrest in fear for most of the runtime. It's directed brilliantly, with Dan Trachtenberg announcing himself as the next big thing. The script by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecker and Damien Chazelle is phenomenal, creating rich, compelling characters that you'll be invested in. In fact, I have absolutely no problem at all in saying that Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle is the best strong female protagonist since Ripley. This movie is that good. Everything about it screams sci-fi classic.

This is the rare review where I don't know where to start. I feel like I've given you just a bunch of reasons for why this movie is great, but I'm struggling to string all that together into something cohesive. Frankly, there's just so much that I love about this movie on a pure cinematic level that it's one of the few movies that I'm just going to be gushing over. If you've ever wished that Alfred Hitchcock had been around to make an Alien movie, this is the movie you've been waiting for. In fact, Trachtenberg might just be the filmmaker you've been waiting for. Of course, it's way too early to call Dan Trachtenberg the next Hitchcock. After all, J.J. Abrams and Damien Chazelle were also involved with this, and those guys have made some iconic films. But many articles have undervalued Trachtenberg's contribution to the film, and that's an enormous mistake.

From the early goings, Trachtenberg commands control of this film. Each scene in 10 Cloverfield Lane is intense. There is an air of uneasiness that surrounds each move, each plot twist, each character decision. It's an atmosphere and a mood that is not easily shaken, and it swallows up the entire film. Which is a good thing. Trachtenberg abandons the found footage style of Matt Reeves' (highly overrated) Cloverfield in favor of steady, engrossing camera work that sucks you into the film. The film is both claustrophobic and expansive, nostalgic in its 1950's B-movie style and equipped with a modern look. Trachtenberg is a master of composition and direction- the way he combines Jeff Cutter's sparkling cinematography, the cryptic script and Bear McCreary's powerful score is wonderful, and the performances he gets out of his actors are mesmerizing. Don't forget his name. We'll be hearing about him for a long, long time.

While Trachtenberg is the rising star of the show, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is already an established name. She has appeared in films like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Death Proof and The Spectacular Now, and done a fabulous job. But in many ways, this still feels like her breakout performance. I've always loved Winstead, and it was so amazing to see her evolve into this fierce and incredible character over the course of 10 Cloverfield Lane. Michelle is resourceful, smart and cunning, able to work her way around the most terrifying of situations. She's one of the strongest characters we've seen on the big screen in a long time, someone who deserves to be mentioned with other feminist icons like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. While 10 Cloverfield Lane shares many elements of a horror film, Michelle is no damsel in distress.

Beyond Winstead's gritty performance, the rest of the cast is equally impressive. Goodman's Howard is fascinating and horrifying, performed with a wild explosiveness by the iconic actor. Howard can be set off by even the smallest thing, and it's that sense of unpredictability that keeps 10 Cloverfield Lane interesting for its entire runtime. There are times where Howard, especially towards the beginning, seems a little too crazy for his own good. It reminded me of Stephen King's comment that Kubrick's version of The Shining didn't work because Jack Nicholson's Torrance was already crazy at the start of the movie. And yet, Goodman's portrayal is so nuanced and complex that Howard is never quite defined by his surface-level actions. Some have been petitioning for an Oscar campaign for the actor, and I would be completely on board with that. He's truly terrifying in this role. Finally, John Gallagher Jr. is great as Emmett, bringing a sweetness and humanity to the whole bloody affair. He rounds out a perfectly balanced trio of performances.

10 Cloverfield Lane keeps the tension running high for most of the film, building it up to the point where you'll probably be gasping for air as the claustrophobic setting turns violent. But just as it all calms down, Trachtenberg and the screenwriters send you straight into The Twilight Zone. If you've seen the original Cloverfield, you probably know what I'm talking about. The human drama takes a spooky twist and it'll surprise audiences who aren't expecting it. And if the ending is any indication, we could be seeing a sequel very soon. There's gonna be quite a bit of debate over the merits of this twist, and whether or not Abrams should have given this wholly original thriller a freshly minted franchise tag. In my mind, it doesn't matter- it got people to see a fantastic movie, so why's anyone complaining?

For now, fans and critics will debate 10 Cloverfield Lane over its connection to a larger universe, its implications in the overall scheme of Hollywood, and its box office results. After all, this was the kind of experiment that we hadn't really seen before in the world of complex marketing and target demographics. But in a decade, this film will be hailed as a classic sci-fi thriller. Announcing the stunning directorial talent of Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane blends unforgettable performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman with spectacular B-movie thrills for one of the first true gems of 2016. Delivering on every level, this one is a knockout.

Hollywood- more movies like this, please.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                              (9.5/10)

Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Guardian, Telegraph, Joblo

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