10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Like a bomb defusal operative wary of spoiler shrapnel I have been very careful around 10 Cloverfield Lane. When I originally heard of its existence to be honest I casually dismissed it as another uncalled and unrequited sequel, birthed from the hype heavy Cloverfield monster movie that wrecked havoc back in 2008. A single perusal of the trailer sparked some mild flicker of interest, but I still had the picture partitioned in the ‘one to catch on Blu-Ray’ silo, rather than a crucial theatre assault. But then something interesting happened, and my podcast and social media feeds started to whelp with excitement, broadly asserting the appearance of a finely tuned mystery film armed with a competent application of tension and dread, not exactly an absence in multiplexes due to the gnawing grimoire of The Witch. With nothing else on the horizon movie wise last weekend I decided to give it a try, although I would urge movie fans out there to also consider giving High Rise a go, it was a three star picture for me but supporting Wheatley and any UK fronted films of such origins waters the soil for future films of a similar nature, so go take the escalator to the pandemonium of the penthouse before DC comics latest behemoth crushes everything else in its path on Friday. But I digress…..
A deftly economical montage immediately asserts the craft and thought on display, as wordlessly meet our heroine Michelle (a resourceful Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who flees New Orleans after an silently assumed and unspecified break with her partner – it’s not quite in the same league but it has a similar effect to this. Screeching into the Louisiana night her car struck and driven from the road, as she groggily awakes interned to an IV drip and also ominously cuffed to a pipe in a bleak concrete walled bunker. Enter our second character, the bulky and burly Howard (John Goodman, just fantastic) who doesn’t quite seem to be holding Michelle completely against her will, even as he darkly mutters about apocalyptic happenings in the wider world and initially restricts her movements around what emerges as a well stocked and equipped sub-surface shelter. With Michelle’s suspicions aroused a slow paranoid tango untwirls, as the audience is invited to assess Howard’s mental mechanics, but those distant ominous rumblings seem to signal that something is happening out in the darkness…..
I find that J.J. Abram’s Bad Robot cloning pod can veer between two extremes, there’s the fun pulpy TV genre rides of Fringe and Alias, but theres also the surface simulacrums of Lost and the Star Trek reboots whose initial spell quickly dematerialise to reveal the rudderless sham simulacrums they actually are. Happily 10 Cloverfield Lane is mostly perched in the former category, a distracting and devilish enough play on eerie expectations, hunched over an existential mystery that papers over the cracks of an occasionally contrived plot. Written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle the dude behind the brilliant Whiplash) the absence of the Lindelof, Orci and Kurtzman trifecta is an encouraging signal in investing new talent, with the credits listing Drew Goddard (Angel, Cabin In The Woods) as a stable navigator who has steered the film into a modest hit territory given its modest $15 million outlay. Like Romero’s Zombie hexalogy or Armageddon genre films in general the themes are less about the existential threats than they are about characters forced into proximity of each other, the real dangers internalised by external pressures as the social structures of society are dissolved in an acid cleansing balm. Enter John Goodman with as fine a performance as seen since his Liebowski or Barton Fink days, his demeanour oscillating between socially brusque conspiracy theorist whose claims seems to have have struck the ‘stopped clock, right time’ phase, and a genuinely disturbed maniac with a few genuine skeletons decomposing in the closet. Supporting the mood is some solid spatial awareness moving through of the claustrophobic space, and memorable individual scenes including the tensest game of pictionary in modern cinematic history.
Some of the telegraphed plot turns stretch credulity to snapping point (erm, a shower curtain improvised Hazmat suit?) which some of the film’s critics have seized upon for specific withering scorn, for me these contrivances are digestible deviations, the sandwich surrounding the filling of the film which retains a querulous curiosity. Cloverfield Lane has also defiantly announced the arrival of director Dan Trachtenberg as a talented helmsman to watch, like Robert Eggers with last weeks The Witch do we have a coven of claustrophobic chiller captains coalescing in an eerie embryonic form? I’m sorry, I think I was briefly possessed by the spirit of Stan Lee. In any case he’s known to the internet community for being a founding member of The Totally Rad Show and a cluster of well respected shorts which brought him to the modern audience’s attention, given that Abrams owns the rights to PS3 game Portal this may well have been a bespoke calling card for his next bigger and broader budget project. Without getting into spoiler specifics the movie grabbed and held my attention through to its gear change finale where the title unveils spiritual succession, despite the feel of a season two bottle episode of Lost or a Twilight Zone bloated to feature length I’d recommend it for Goodman’s performance and some frisky final act antics alone. It’s a little hacky to throw out the whole ‘Hitchcockian’ sobriquet but 10 Cloverfield Lane occasionally breaches the same anxious apex, a reasonable paranoid thriller with a genre codifying climax – there’s more to come;