MOVIE REVIEW: 10 Cloverfield Lane



It sure is nice to see a surprise stay a surprise.  In today's day and age of instant and nearly universal access to information, news, and buzz, it's very hard to keep anything the size of a movie a secret.  "10 Cloverfield Lane" fell into our laps with a bewildering Super Bowl TV spot that came out of left field.  The filmmakers and the studio have pulled off a marketing stunt that has now paid off as a entertainment coup.  "10 Cloverfield Lane" is a capricious blast of horror, drama, and science fiction all rolled into one twisty enigma.

In a jarring pre-credits introduction orchestrated by a rich Bear McCreary musical score, we meet a woman named Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  Clues show that she is an aspiring fashion designer scurrying to pack some belongings in a suitcase.  With a diamond ring left on the dresser, we infer she's hitting the road to leave a husband or fiance.  No reasons are given, but we sense the nervous tension in the air until it explodes with a car accident.  

Michelle wakes up with injuries, but is also chained to a wall in a locked room.  She soon meets the person who has contained her, a hulking, paranoid man named Howard (John Goodman) and his younger hayseed neighbor Emmet (Tony Award winner John Gallagher, Jr.).  That's where the chilling mystery begins.  The less you know about the where, why, and how these characters are now thrust together the better.  

This new film may share the "Cloverfield" name, but it bears no resemblance to the 2008 found-footage monster mash from returning headlining producer J.J. Abrams.  In a welcome change, the first film's shaky camcorder crudeness, amateur ensemble, and frantic Big Apple maze have been replaced by strong static camerawork, a three-character play of claustrophobia, and an isolated rural single setting.  Cinematographer Jeff Cutter ("Orphan") and debuting editor Stefan Grube shape this film's look to be a cobra in the weeds instead of a bull in a china shop.

"10 Cloverfield Lane" pushes an unnerving and methodical pace that inhales and exhales its peaks and valleys with a twisted nerve, evoking delicious and classic "Twilight Zone" suspense.  Newbie writers Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken received a screenplay polish from "Whiplash" Oscar nominee Damien Chazelle.  The long-underrated Mary Elizabeth Winstead may be our determined heroine and frightened eyes through this nightmare, but all vehemence in this film goes through John Goodman.  Chazelle's fingerprints are all over Goodman's impressive performance, his best in ages.  Relish watching his commanding twitches and enjoy trying to guess the twists before they happen.  Being in the dark will work it.

LESSON #1: ALWAYS BE PREPARED-- Few people literally pour their every effort into being ready for an unlikely disaster or conspiracy theory scenario.  The level of preparedness can look like paranoia when it doesn't come true or astutely smart when it does.  Better safe than sorry.

LESSON #2: THE IRONY OF THE EXPRESSION "LUCKY TO BE ALIVE"-- Many of us who survive an accident, large-scale or small, thank our lucky stars to still be breathing when we know it could have been worse.  That's the thing.  There's always worse.  Michelle's predicament makes us wonder if she really is better off where she ended up.  Is Howard a savior or a villain?  

LESSON #3: THE VARIATIONS WITHIN THE DEFINITION OF "CRAZY"-- Read the eight layers in this dictionary definition of "crazy."  In "10 Cloverfield Lane" you observe many, if not all, of synonyms in play: unsound, askew, mad, erratic, unusual, and obsessed.