Featuring strong performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) and John Goodman (The Big Lebowski), 10 Cloverfield Lane’s lone hindrance is the rather loose, arbitrary attachment it shares with the monster film Cloverfield. Absent the tenuous bond between this paranoid, celldwelling film and the POV monster film, the filmmakers could have focused their energies on delivering a satisfying ending to the film at hand and not the franchise it blossoms from. Having said that, if the only way this movie would have been produced was to have it belong to the Cloverfield universe, then so be it. It deserved to be made. More, it deserves to be watched.
The girl of Scott Pilgrim’s teenage infatuations, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, portrtays Michelle. A strong, resourceful woman placed in a tense situation she wanted no part of. While driving late at night, Michelle’s vehicle crashes into a ditch. Sometime later she wakes in a cellar in nothing but her undergarments, lashed down to a bed. Enter John Goodman. Manic. Frightening. Almost paternal. Almost. Perhaps the way a bizarre pastor at a seedy church might be.
Goodman plays crazy well. So well it is almost disturbing, as though he himself may call such a mindset home. Unlike the twitchy, scattered performance of an eccentric actor playing a bizarre role–Jesse Eisenberg, Supes v Bats: DoJ–Goodman plays such a role with a sort of calculation that belies the intentions and psychoses of his characters. Nothing is overtly off about Howard, the celldwelling doomsday-er he portrays in 10 Cloverfield Lane. But he’s just bizarre. So subtly bizarre that when he tells Michelle the world has seen oblivion above and the only safe place to live is below we don’t believe him. How could we? He’s a brooding man spitting out endtimes horrors from below the earth. He offers no evidence for the curious and doubtful Michelle, no catharsis. Michelle is free to walk around the sunken fortress but she cannot go to the doors. Cannot go outside. The air is now toxic, and she has no choice but to believe Howard that this is how they will live for the foreseeable future. These are the rules. This is the way it is.
Michelle and Howard are not alone below the earth, however, as Howard had rescued a fellow named Emmett. Though Emmett has no knowledge as to how he arrived in the cellar, Emmett is not as skeptical as Michelle. He believes Howard that something has happened above, but being of similar age with Michelle, the two form a bond. A bond that Howard will not entertain. At a ‘family’ dinner in the cellar, Michelle and Emmett indulge in some flirtations. Howard eventually breaks, letting loose with a yell that bends the talkers back over their plates, where they continue on with their meal in silence. It is Howard’s way. No other. Worse, they can’t even leave, so there is no highway, either.
Even when Howard is absent from the screen, his presence persists. As the film progresses, Michelle and Emmett devise plans to excavate the truth from Howard’s tales. This is done at discreet times, with hushed tones. Any sound silences them. A creak. Howard’s voice. And then Howard would enter, the force he is, almost depressingly calm, as though he knows what is being devised and is content to let it happen. Again, another virtuoso trait displayed by Goodman. There is a sort of sadness he can relay that displays a wounded heart but not will. As if letting them hope they might figure out the truth is a small form of torture.
10 Cloverfield Lane stands apart from films that have done similar things. John Carpenter’s The Thing is an excellent mediation on an excellent short story that raises questions in regards to the human capacity to trust versus its want to possess knowledge. And yet, despite The Things’ greatness, 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t feel derivative. It feels like its own thing. A thing brought to life by terrific performances–perhaps the one facet of film that will always be different. All the stories have been told, most every shot has been composed, the edits have been made, but the onscreen talents of the artists have the capacity to evolve and take shape however the artist sees fit.
If you enjoy horror or mystery or paranoia, give the film a watch. It’s mostly great. Mostly. 4 outta 5.