10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane is what I like to call an “Oh, come on!” movie.  Because at various points, you either think to yourself or say out loud, “Oh, come on!”.  Believe it or not, it’s an actual line of dialogue, the only time I laughed.

A sort-of sequel to the overrated 2008 found footage shockumentary Cloverfield, it drops that often contrived gimmick in favour of a more conventional narrative.  The result is the same, though.  Like its predecessor, it isn’t scary.  Put simply, it’s bullshit, which I also thought and said out loud more than once.

The heavenly Mary Elizabeth Winstead has spent her entire life running from scary situations.  In the opening scene, she quietly dumps her fiance (an unbilled Bradley Cooper) after an unseen, unexplained fight, leaves behind her engagement ring, packs up her stuff and moves out.  When he tries to call her from her car, she picks up but says nothing.  Then, because this is a horror movie, she gets into an accident.  You see it coming a mile away.

When she wakes up, she’s pantsless, barefoot (she never wears socks the entire movie, for some puzzling reason), banged up, groggy, handcuffed and locked inside what appears to be a basement.  Then John Goodman enters her room.  It turns out he’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist who claims that there’s been an attack.  They’re not in his house, though.  They’re in his underground bunker.  He’s been preparing for this moment for years.  It’s why he built the place.

The second we meet him, we have an immediate problem.  Goodman isn’t creepy enough.  (Kathy Bates, he isn’t.)  He’s the absolute wrong actor to pull off this role.  With the exception of one scene, I never felt intimidated by him.  This serious miscasting negates the few positives the film has going for it, like the terrific set design.  (We really do feel like we’re in a bunker.)

The movie also suffers from Tarantinoitis:  too much annoying small talk.  That becomes most evident when John Gallagher Jr. enters the story.  Unlike Winstead, he willingly wanted to come here.  His left arm in a sling, he too suffers from extreme fear.  He tells a story about being a great Track star in high school.  But because he was a shitty student, he wasn’t brave enough to go to college with all the smart kids even though he had a full scholarship and a ticket to ride.  Whatever, Nancy.

On more than one occasion, he deeply irritates Goodman with his constant yammering.  After a while, you wonder why he’s been tolerated for so long.  You get the feeling Goodman is looking for any reason to off him.  He’s a little too patient.  Considering Goodman’s intentions towards Winstead, it makes little sense why he keeps him around.

Upon waking up in her room, Winstead immediately plots her escape.  (I like how she sharpens the wooden end of one of her crutches into a shank, even though that plan doesn’t work out too well.)  But Goodman is determined to keep her indoors.  He insists it’s just not safe to go outside.  (I always thought he was lying about these potential threats, maybe even overselling the danger, but sadly, he isn’t.  It’s clear I’d forgotten about this movie’s predecessor.)  There’s a scene where the clever Winstead, easily the smartest character in the film, comes thisclose to leaving when suddenly a woman, Goodman’s neighbour, pounding on the other side of the door, demands to be let in.  She has very noticeable red open sores all over her face.  She’s in a state of panic.

Just moments before she literally pops in the frame (cheap horror gimmicks die hard), Goodman points out his dead hogs with the same condition (he has a farm), screaming at Winstead to reconsider.  Faced with her biggest fear yet again, Winstead realizes she’s stuck.  She doesn’t open the door.

Winstead later reveals to Gallagher that she’s a survivor of child abuse.  This explains why she chooses to stay in the bunker (better the devil you know than the devil you don’t) and her impulsive decision to dump Cooper after their fight.  (It’s not clear whether their argument was ever truly violent.)  She recounts a big regret.  While in a store, she witnessed a father not unlike her own repeatedly yanking on his daughter’s arm.  When the kid accidentally tripped, he punched her.  Winstead wishes she had intervened.

Faced with the very real prospect of never getting out of here, Winstead tries to make the best of it by doing puzzles with Gallagher and reading Goodman’s dead daughter’s old magazines.  (She wears some of her old clothes.)  They watch movies from his own personal VHS/DVD collections.  (He loves Pretty In Pink.)  She tries to decorate her bedroom to make it less gloomy.  And they eat dinner together like one awkward family.  These scenes of faux tranquility drag the movie’s already languid pacing down considerably.

But when the air filtration system gets jammed (she’s the only one who can fix it), her determination to flee returns with a vengeance.  She accidentally steps on a pair of blood-stained earrings, the same earrings Goodman’s daughter is wearing in a photo he has of her.  But when Gallagher sees the picture, he knows it’s not her.  It’s his sister’s former schoolmate who went missing two years ago.  Just before she finds the earrings, she also spots an alarming message scraped into a window.  Goodman hasn’t been fully candid.

Desperate for a solution to her dilemma, she figures out a way to protect herself should she ever manage to get past Goodman.  But once she escapes this nightmare, a more ridiculous one awaits, lest we forget this is a Cloverfield movie and if you’ve seen the first one, you know to a certain extent what that involves.

I don’t know about you but I’m getting tired of women-in-peril movies.  I’m also growing bored with alien invasion flicks.  10 Cloverfield Lane, Goodman’s home address in the movie, is half the former and half the latter, so it’s doubly tedious.  Long before his confession and a bit before she figures it out herself, it’s abundantly clear that Goodman’s motives toward Winstead are not altogether altruistic and her injuries are not at all accidental.  She’s a make-do replacement for a huge hole in his life that someone else once reluctantly filled.  It’s a bit too reminiscent of Don’t Breathe, which is only slightly better than this movie.

I have to admit, though, her makeshift hazmat suit would make MacGyver proud.  And as it turns out, it’s absolutely necessary in one scene.  How convenient, though, that she just happens to have a talent for designing clothes.  And how fortunate that Goodman doesn’t scoop up that bottle of liquor from her back seat.

In the final scene, Winstead has a decision to make.  Will she go to Baton Rouge or head towards Houston?  In other words, will she play it safe as always or take yet another risk?  Considering what she has just been through and in spite of what she tells Gallagher, it’s not believable she would make that left turn.

Dennis Earl
Hamiton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, May 28, 2017
5:33 p.m.

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Published in: on May 28, 2017 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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