Tuesday, March 15, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

*** out of ****

While the 2008 film Cloverfield was only so appreciated, I was in awe of its then-unconventional existence as a disaster movie that managed to be filmed in secrecy, thanks to a cast of relative no-names who didn’t draw attention and a production style that hid the scale of its special effects budget. Its Blair Witch approach to a monster attack movie felt like a re-invention of the genre. Sadly many movies inspired to take on the found-footage approach didn’t manage to improve on the believability of a protagonist in peril who insists on filming everything.

None of this applies to 10 Cloverfield Lane, which is not a found footage film, nor is it much of a sequel. Producer J.J. Abrams insists that when you see the name “Cloverfield,” you need to think of it as part of an “anthology” series of movies that share a similar theme.

Like the last movie, it was made in secrecy, but this time the cast is more reputable, the setting is rural, the atmosphere is claustrophobic and the filmmaking style is skillfully traditional.

The lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead takes the lead as a young woman who, after a car accident while traveling down a country road, wakes up in a subterranean room chained to a pipe. She then meets her captor, played by the great John Goodman who reveals to her that she is in a large fallout shelter of his design and that he saved her from the accident shortly before world-ending events took place. After being unchained, she meets one other guest in the shelter – played with the subtle versatility of John Gallagher Jr. who is a local farm worker. Despite the home-like comforts in the space, both are under the strict untrusting standards of a socially awkward man who has clearly been waiting most of his life for apocalyptic events.

Reasonably, the two young guests of this scary old guy share some doubt that he is telling the truth about the horrors outside and the movie that follows is a wonderful suspense machine starring a heroine trying to find clarity as to what source of danger is more threatening: Above or below?

Like many artists working under Abrams’ guidance, Dan Trachtenberg’s first feature film has a loosely structured story that acts heavier than it really is, but the characters and atmosphere are wonderfully bold from its seductive beginning to its somewhat hackneyed climax.

10 Cloverfield Lane is still very effective entertainment with well-written dialogue from first-time feature screenwriters Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken –with the help of Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle. The performances are also potent - particularly from Goodman who may be doing his creepiest work since Barton Fink.

This isn’t a major accomplishment but it follows in the tradition of thoughtful B-movie thrillers from another era and its slow pace is justified throughout its relatively short runtime. Considering how much garbage studios normally dump at the beginning of the year, this is yet another decent movie for the start of 2016. I wouldn’t mind if Abrams has another Cloverfield entry planned for the near future.

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