10 Cloverfield Lane Is Vacant

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While Mary Elizabeth Winstead (r) is a decent actor, she’s unfortunately overshadowed by the dramatic titan that is John Goodman.

By Matt Recker

(WOODSLEE, ON) – 10 Cloverfield Lane is a deceptive movie. Not just the plot, but the marketing and production is designed to make you think you’re getting something you’re not. Fans of 2008’s Cloverfield will be disappointed to find that this is not a sequel, and despite a couple incredibly minor background references, has nothing to do with the original.

I got the distinct feeling that this was a completely original movie that had the Cloverfield license slapped on it in post production for marketing purposes. You may also think this is a JJ Abrams movie, as his name is featured prominently on the poster and in trailers, but that would be false as well.

It’s written by first time feature writers Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken and first time feature director Dan Trachtenberg. Abrams’ company Bad Robot produced the movie, but as far as I can tell Abrams has nothing to do with the film itself.

So, if you’re feeling a little bit cheated, it’s understandable.

The movie is not very upfront about what it is. But, that doesn’t matter much if the movie is good, right? Well that’s the film’s other failing; it isn’t.

Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim, A Good Day to Die Hard), is driving down a long, dark road avoiding calls from her jilted boyfriend when she is run off the road by a truck, resulting in a terrible car crash. She wakes up chained to a wall in an underground bunker owned by the paranoid, conspiracy theorist Howard (John Goodman).

Michelle is told by Howard that there has been some kind of attack and that the surface is unsafe and she must stay underground for up to two years with him and a young man named Emmet. Michelle quickly learns that Howard might not be telling the truth and she works to escape from the underground refuge, return to the surface, and learn the truth.

The premise is very good fodder for tense and thrilling moments and in that department 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers; for the most part.

John Goodman’s character feels really threatening and scenes where he appears to be struggling to hold back his violent, paranoid tendencies play really well. The dinner scene in particular is appropriately uncomfortable and tense and provides a strong motivation for Michelle to escape.

In fact, I would say John Goodman’s performance is the best part of the movie. His facial expressions and stilted awkward movements show that he’s suffering from some severe psychological problems and could snap at any moment. And, when he does, his booming voice makes him seem dangerous.

There’s a lot of subtle acting going on with him, and the venerable actor proves that he’s more than just Dan Conner. The character also has more tender moments where you learn more about him and his struggle, and he manages to make you feel for him a little, even though he is clearly not a nice person.

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Like every other horror movie made in the 2000s, we have to have the obligatory “my cell phone has no signal” scene.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, however, is a bit of a blank slate. She goes through no range of emotions and always seems to hold the same angry and confused look throughout the film.

Her character goes through some pretty intense moments and should be showing an array of emotions like anger, fright, complacency, hopefulness, empathy, scepticism, etc. But, Winstead never shows that kind of range.

I never found her character to be very likable or sympathetic and the tension in the movie doesn’t come from wanting her to survive as much as it does from sheer curiosity as to what’s going on outside the bunker.

Goodman’s antagonist is by far the more interesting and complex character, which doesn’t bode well for a movie where you’re supposed to root against him.

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This scene is heavily reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is not a good thing for a dark, psychological thriller.

The other resident of 10 Cloverfield Lane is John Gallagher Jr as Emmet (Pieces of April, Jonah Hex). His character’s only purpose is to have someone for Winstead to talk to other than Goodman, and really plays no role in the story.

Emmet acts like a simpleton, never questioning the situation he’s in and going along with Goodman’s story like an obedient puppy. He has no arc, no emotional investment, and almost no purpose within the story.

He’s not likable, he’s unrelatable, and he’s generally pretty inconsequential.

The movie is a thriller. And, while it does deliver quite a few tense moments, in general the writing is pretty weak.

A lot of the dialogue is unrealistic and at times cringe-worthy. There is a painfully long scene of exposition between Emmet and Michelle near the middle that serves only to set up a weak personal conflict for Michelle to overcome.

It’s melodramatic, simplistic, and provides no real insight into the characters, existing only to justify the very last shot of the movie.

There are two moments in the movie involving acid that could have been really creepy, but instead are treated like a cartoon. The movie takes a turn where you would expect to see some blood and gore, but cheaps-out and shows nothing; and not in a, “What you don’t see is scarier,” way. Instead, it’s in a way where you feel cheated out of a cool special effect.

I wont spoil the ending, but I have to mention it as it’s easily the most disappointing thing in the film. The movie goes on for about 20 minutes more than it should and the final scene undercuts everything Michelle goes through for the first 90% of the movie.

It’s a cheesy scene that I expect was added to appease a studio and pander to mainstream audiences. It doesn’t affect any of the characters in a meaningful way, it doesn’t pay anything off (other than a background detail of a whiskey bottle), and if the movie ended before the scene even started it would be better off.

The movie should have been nothing more than a small, contained story about three characters at the end of the world, but almost swerves off of Cloverfield Lane and onto Michael Bay Blvd.

There is a really good thriller movie hidden within 10 Cloverfield Lane. The basics are there: a claustrophobic setting, a young, vulnerable young woman trapped with a hulking, borderline psychopath, an unknown threat that you’re constantly wanting to be revealed.

Unfortunately, due to some bad writing and a forced affiliation with a completely different movie franchise, the whole thing is a bit of a let down.

I would say the movie is still worth a watch for the scenes that work, but don’t expect anything more than a watered down thriller that is more interested in its shallow sci-fi plot than it’s characters and themes.

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About the Author

Ian Shalapata

Ian Shalapata is the owner and publisher of Square Media Group. He covers politics, the police beat, community events, the arts, sports, and everything in between.

His imagery and freelance contributions have appeared in select publications and for organizations in Canada and the United States.

Contact Ian with story ideas.

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