Friday, March 11, 2016

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at a multiplex near you:


(Dir. Dan Trachtenberg, 2016)

Warning: This review contains major Spoilers!

Forget about how, or if, this movie is supposed to be connected to the J.J. Abrams-produced 2008 fake found footage alien invasion flick CLOVERFIELD, Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (also Abrams-produced), is a damn fine thriller that stands on its own.

It starts with a bang – or a bunch of bangs, really, as we witness a young woman named Michelle, played by N.C. native Mary Elizabeth Winstead, get in a nasty nighttime automobile accident out in the middle of nowhere (actually rural Louisiana) that leaves her car flipped over by the side of the road.

Michelle, who had just left her boyfriend (Bradley Cooper, in cellphone voice only), wakes up later in a windowless, concrete room with her leg handcuffed to a pipe. Her captor, or savior as he would say, is a large, gruff man named Howard (John Goodman), who tells her that there’s been an attack, by either the Russians or Martians, and the outside air is contaminated, but they’re safe in his well-stocked underground bunker, which he built just for such an occasion.

There’s one other person there, Emmett (The Newsroom’s John Gallagher, Jr.), who helped build the bunker and collaborates Howard’s story, saying that he saw the “flash” of light, and headed to Howard’s for shelter. However, Michelle, now unchained and free to move about, remains skeptical especially after she sees Howard’s truck through a window on the ground level and recognizes it as the vehicle that hit her car.

During a tense dinner scene, Michelle is able to steal Howard’s keys and runs to escape. She is halted in the airlock by a scary sickly woman (Suzanne Cryer) pounding on the glass to get in, while Howard screams “Don’t open that door!”

After that incident, things calm down and the three adjust to their life in the bunker via a montage – luckily there’s a jukebox in the recreation area and Tommy James & The Shondells’ “I Think We're Alone Now” gets a nicely used spin as Michelle, Howard, and Emmett watch movies *, read, and work on a jigsaw puzzle.

After he confesses that he accidentally crashed into her car, Michelle even begins to trust Howard, but his mentions of his daughter Megan who died mysteriously make her again give pause. So Michelle and Emmett start hatching a plan to escape involving making an airtight suit out of a shower curtain and a gas mask out of 2 liter bottles.

It would spill too much of the contents of what Abrams calls a “mystery box,” to go much further with the plot, but I’ll just say that the last third gets into WAR OF THE WORLDS territory (hey, I warned you about Spoilers!). This reveal will be divisive as some will think that it cheapens the pot boiler set up, but I found it to be an effective, and exciting finale. And I so much more enjoyed Winstead fighting aliens here than in that forgettable THE THING prequel.

Trachtenberg, working from Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle’s clever screenplay, keeps an engaging pace – I can’t recall any part that dragged – and gets solid performances from all three leads. Howard is Goodman’s juiciest, and most layered role in ages, and he plays it to the hilt, convincingly inhabiting the skin of this very scary man, but one who’s not without warmth.

Winstead, who appears to be building quite a resume as a horror scream queen, does a great energetic job with making us feel and think alongside the character of Michelle, in all her desperate stress. Gallagher, Jr.’s Emmett could be seen as the comic relief at times as he gets in a few choice one-liners, but I believe Goodman got the film’s biggest laugh at the screening I saw when he said that he was a “reasonable man.”

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a genuinely scary, and intensely gripping experience that goes to show that franchise films don’t have to be sequels (or prequels); they can effectively be stand alone stories, from completely different corners of conflict, that take place in the same world.

Here’s hoping the same approach works for that ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY deal coming out later this year.

* In one scene, Goodman is watching PRETTY IN PINK, which he says was his daughter's favorite movie. It's a nice shout-out as the beloved '80s teen classic celebrated its 30th birhtday just last week (released: Feb. 28, 1986). Happy belated Birthday PRETTY IN PINK!

More later...

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