|The AMC IMAX posters for the film manage to out-Saul-Bass Saul Bass himself.|
♫ I think we're alone now... there doesn't seem to be anyone around... ♫ *ehem* sorry, hadda do it.
I really enjoyed this movie. And I was prepared for disappointment, thanks to the name. As much as people seem to remember the hype surrounding the release of the original Cloverfield in 2008, some of them have forgotten that it was essentially a B- or even C-grade movie enlivened by a brilliant advertising campaign. At the time I was far more interested in the tie-in alternative reality game, which played out on a half-dozen websites, than in the film itself.
But 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn't have much in common with its predecessor, other than the name. (The cynical part of my brain says this small, otherwise low-key film received its new name -- its original title was The Cellar -- solely to draw in audiences who had seen Cloverfield. Then the optimistic part of my brain says, "Shut up, cynic! It was a good movie!" Besides, J.J. Abrams et al. do have a good reason to place the Cloverfield name on this film -- it sets audiences up to anticipate, or at least to accept, certain apocalyptic events near the end of the film that might otherwise feel like someone in the screening room spliced two unrelated movies together.)
A few folks have complained about that gearshift in the film's third act; I've even read a few Tweets to the effect of "I went out to use the bathroom, and when I came back it was a different movie." I do see why people felt like 10 Cloverfield Lane shifted genres -- suddenly switching from a tightly-plotted Hitchcock-style psychological thriller to an adrenaline-fueled, CG-laden alien invasion movie -- but think about it. This was always an alien invasion movie. We were just encouraged to think of it as a different genre, partially because it takes place in an isolated bunker, but mostly because we see events through Michelle's eyes and so don't trust or believe much of what Howard tells her. He may be a paranoid, violent sociopath with a black belt in conspiracy theories, but that doesn't mean he's wrong about everything. (And the film quietly foreshadows the events of its third act, even putting a line about "mutant space worms" into Emmett's dialogue.) Writer Tasha Robinson at The Verge has put together a fantastically on-point essay about this very subject, and it's well worth a read.
I've seen John Goodman in a lot of roles, and this film showcases some of his most effective work to date. He's made a living out of playing jovial everyman characters, but his Howard Stambler is outright chilling. His sheer imposing size, which in other movies has been used to big-teddy-bear effect, makes him a menacing figure in every scene with Mary Elizabeth Winstead; you get the distinct impression he could -- and might -- lose his temper at any time and just snap her in half. And if you've had any personal experience with domestic violence, Howard will creep you right the hell out. The writers and actor have done such a bang-up job of recreating the typical behaviors of a long-time domestic abuser that even small details about the character -- the circumstances under which Howard appears clean-shaven for the first time, for instance -- are both believable and deeply disturbing.
John Gallagher, Jr. as Emmett isn't getting as much review love as the other two protagonists, but his character's presence completes and solidifies the story -- not only does his existence heighten the dramatic tension, but Emmett himself undergoes some significant changes, progressing from a man who fought his way into the bunker (he never says how he broke that arm, but my money's on Howard doing it deliberately in an attempt to keep him out) to a man who helps jerry-rig a way out of that same bunker. He's an average, fundamentally decent person who does what he can to make the best of a weird situation. (Funnily enough, John Goodman plays precisely this type of character in other films.)
Finally, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle does a fantastic job. 10 Cloverfield Lane is her story from beginning to end, from the moment she bolts after a fight with her fiancé to the final scene where she makes a life-altering choice to act. Even though casting plays up her tiny frame next to Goodman's Howard, she is far from a helpless waif, MacGyvering her way through most of the challenges that are thrown at her. (And Miss V should be delighted to discover that our heroine Michelle is not only a clothing designer, but that her skills in this area are a major plot point.) She's smart, skeptical, marvelously resourceful, constantly thinking ahead, and her story about watching the father and daughter in the hardware store made me tear up.
Overall, a far better film than I expected. And it really makes me wonder what the Bad Robot people intend to do with the next installment in what they're now calling an anthology.