Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg (debut)
Written by: Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) Josh Campbell (“4 Minute Mile”), Matthew Stuecken (debut),
Back in 2007, a trailer was attached to the first “Transformers” movie that caught the attention and curiosity of moviegoers everywhere. It featured a party filmed handheld style that was violently interrupted with giant explosions and terror. It ended with the head of the statue of liberty rolling down a New York street. It also ended with no title card, and only a release date for when it would come to theaters. It became one of the top searched trends on the internet and eventually, more details would come to light on the JJ Abrams-produced “Cloverfield,” an inventive found-footage monster movie that helped kickstart a style that has, for better or worse, become a major trend in Hollywood.
Abrams, being a lover of all things mysterious, pulled another trick when another Michael Bay movie (“13 Hours”) had a mysterious trailer attached to it. This time, it had a title: “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Absent from anyone’s radar, the movie was set to come out in mere months. With few plot details known, the time has finally come to see if first, the movie has anything to do with its name sake and second, if its any good.
After being involved in a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up chained in an underground bunker. Brought back by doomsday prepper Howard (John Goodman), she is told that the air is contaminated and nobody above is alive. As she becomes closer to another person in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), they begin to realize that Howard may be more dangerous and crazy than they think. As they band together to try to find a way out, Howard does whatever necessary to keep them there.
The biggest draw to “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the performance of Goodman. It’s a little hammy and on the nose at times, but it’s still an unsettling and weird performance. Winstead is good for her part, getting to show some physical prowess as well as acting chops. The screenplay, however, does not allow for any meaty character moments to happen. We find Winstead’s Michelle on the run, but we don’t know and never find out why. We see Howard has a checkered family past but we don’t know and never find out why.
In fact, as the proceedings move along, it becomes abundantly clear that direct Dan Trachtenberg and company have no intention of answering any of the questions that they posed. Beyond the narrative, it becomes really difficult for any character study to be done when the audience is only aware of very surface level things. The film flirts with taking its most interesting character in Howard and shedding some light on his truth. It pulls the rug, however, and nothing becomes resolved. The result feels like a complete bait and switch, and perhaps worse, the creation of tension only for the sake of tone and not serving any narrative purpose.
That doesn’t mean the film is totally devoid of tension. There’s actually a lot of intense scenes of near escape or trying to figure out one another. It’s almost a prolonged chess game, only, at times, slow moving and filled with annoying red herrings. Without divulging spoilers, the plot takes a twist in its final act that is completely inexplicable. It feels pasted on, as if we are watching the beginning of an entirely new movie. It’s a shame that instead of exploring characters further and adding nuance to the story, the film decides to go in an even bigger “wtf” direction than what we have seen so far.
Fans of “Cloverfield” may find themselves let down that “10 Cloverfield Lane” has virtually nothing to do with the 2008 film. But after you crack through the potential disappointment of expectations vs. reality, “10 Cloverfield Lane” boils down to a lot of manufactured mood, repetitive MacGyver’ing from Winstead’s character, and an unsatisfying narrative.