I’ll start by saying this: damn, J.J. Abrams, is there anything you touch that doesn’t magically turn to geek-gold? Are you the modern-day Midas? As a TV producer Abrams helmed Alias, Felicity, and Lost (although he left the last creation to die on its knees gasping for air (I watched ‘til the horrifically bitter end, I’m not afraid to admit)). Behind the silver screen, he was responsible for the most recent and majorly successful Star Trek reboot, and the revival of the Star Wars franchise with a critically lauded seventh installment (a bit too praised if you ask me, but who asked me). There is just something about this guy. He has become the geek-god of television and film. And lens-flares and all, we love him for it. He’s got the cajones to take on intimidating projects with established fan-bases, and executes them with flair and appreciation for the paying customer
But flash back for a second. You’re in high school/university, still blissfully and euphorically traipsing through life, unaware of just how hard adult-hood is going to hit you. These were the good-old days. The days where you could watch a movie and not be a crotchety, overly critical old person about every narrative flaw and plot hole. Before life beat you down into the decrepit, husk of a corporeal form you inhabit. This, my friend, was 2008, and in this year the found-footage film Cloverfield was released to generally favorable reviews and a generous box-office haul of 170 million dollars (on a 25 million dollar budget, that’s a nice return). On the heels of Paranormal Activity in terms of found-footage fiction, Cloverfield executed quite ably. A refreshing blend of frenetic pacing, thrills, and tasteful CGI breathed life into the film and made it bearable, if not ultimately enjoyable to sit through.
Flash forward eight years to 10 Cloverfield Lane, to the semi-sequel that bears absolutely no references to its predecessor other than in the title (an effective ploy by Abrams to market the film, I’m sure), to a tangential microcosm of the Cloverfield universe where aliens exist and they’re pissed at us, to a movie that no one asked for, but one that we all wanted deep down in our plums (lady-plums included). 10 Cloverfield Lane comes out of left field in the current market of super-hero films and CGI blockbusters to offer an intensely claustrophobic, anxiety-inducing cinema experience that punches the awkward tension pedal to the car-mat and doesn’t let up until you’re sufficiently skeeved out by John Goodman’s presence (Goodman’s performance, by the way, is a clear demonstration of the man’s underappreciated acting chops, and a reason to watch this movie in and of itself).
The first two acts of the film are masterfully done. Although there is a soundless and tastefully done introduction to our protagonist, the film doesn’t busy itself with senselessly indulgent exposition that would otherwise insult our intelligence and hinder the inertia of the film’s pacing, pacing that is essential to the success of the film. Because 10 Cloverfield Lane is essentially a one-setting film, the brunt of the story telling falls on the acting and beneath it, good writing. This film has both. With stellar performances from Goodman and Winstead, and a script that is as seemingly airtight as the bomb shelter in which the characters find themselves, the film executes its limited use of space in a spectacularly pleasing fashion.
All this being said, the film has its flaws in the third act. If you’re going to make an apocalyptic psychological thriller, commit to it. Monsters should be heard not seen in cases such as these, and without spoiling too much, the film ultimately shows too much. I concede that to avoid being a total cuckold for the audience, some pay-off was necessary in the end. My point is that 10 Cloverfield Lane had an opportunity to be a truly mind-fucking experience, but blew its wad on a cheap trick with a fast and loose finish.
I’ll close by saying this: I enjoyed this film. Quite a bit. Maybe more than I should have. Because, to me, it harkens back to a different time. 2008: a time when movies with original scripts were critically applauded and adaptations/reboots were looked on with suspicion. Now all we’re offered is a salad of Marvel movies or the latest Michael Bay-wannabe explosion flicks; you order spaghetti and marinara sauce and get egg noodles and ketchup. You’re duped. Outdone. Outgunned and outmatched by the Hollywood machine. And it’s a shame really, because for every nine clichéd scripts that make it to market, there’s one original just waiting to see the light of day. 10 Cloverfield Lane is that one in ten. 10 Cloverfield Lane restores, albeit briefly and modestly, faith in the ability of modern cinema to still make us “feel things,” even if those things are discomfort and anxiety.
I give it 4.25/5 TANK-TOP HEROINES