Wednesday, March 16, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane Review

I see a lot of films, some I love and some I loathe, but one thing that doesn't happen often enough is the feeling that I need to process what I just saw. That feeling where you don't quite know what to say and you replay the entire experience in your mind to relive the journey to see how it got there. By there, of course, I mean the conclusion of the film, and goodness does 10 Cloverfield Lane have one worth talking about. It's the entire reason I needed time to process.

Let's back up here for a second though, because I need to make myself perfectly clear: 10 Cloverfield Lane is terrific from the first frame all the way through the last, so when I say process I don't mean to imply that it was ever walking some sort of tightrope between good or bad. A masterclass in claustrophobic tension and unnerving performances, the picture starts with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whom has never been better) frantically packing a bag and the combination of this imagery along with the a glorious score that reminded me so much of something that the great Bernard Hermann would have graced us with over a Hitchcock classic had me thinking of Psycho.

Where she is going, we don't know, but she never gets there. Her car is violently struck and when Michelle wakes up, she is in an ugly, windowless room with blood on her pillow, an IV in her arm and one leg chained to the wall. It's a nightmare and one that doesn't make sense, and what follows does very little to clear the picture up. 10 Cloverfield Lane is ingenious because it is a doomsday prepper thriller that leaves the audience just as confused as Michelle is down in that shelter, wondering what is really going on up above and just how much her "savior" deserves to be trusted. So if the film is all about isolation and cramped spaces and an underground existence, how could this movie possibly be connected to the original Cloverfield, a found footage monster picture? I can't answer that because I don't want to ruin the fun. Sit tight and stay tuned.

While pointing out that Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives her best performance yet doesn't sound like a big deal, it is to me since just last year I was raving about her work in the film Faults. She may not steal the headlines here because John Goodman gives an award worthy turn, but one could argue that Winstead is equally brilliant in her own way, and it is also important to note that the third party present in their bunker is Emmett, played wonderfully by John Gallagher Jr. whom you may know from an excellent film called Short Term 12. The three of them are asked to carry 10 Cloverfield Lane through the importance of performance art, and I wondered during this if much of the film would work as a stage play. The set pieces are limited but we don't need any more because witnessing these gifted actors display their craft is a sight to behold.

Working with a pretty much perfect script written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle, the latter being the Oscar winning writer and director of the film Whiplash, first time director Dan Trachtenberg steps onto the scene with a stunning sense of how to film a thriller using space and circumstances to make the audience feel just as uncomfortable and buried as the characters on the screen. I couldn't find a flaw in this engrossing and disturbing picture until the end, and honestly I am still not sure how I feel about it. It felt like a tiny step down from the perfect rest of the film, but it also oddly worked and feels refreshingly unique and thus I find myself admiring the direction it went. The fusion of genres caused a tonal shift that was like the vibrations felt down in the shelter, but I think I loved it? I still don't know, but I know I am fascinated by how I can't stop thinking about it.

10 Cloverfield Lane is such an interesting piece of cinema, not only because of the actual 100 or so minutes that we are lucky enough to be able to watch but also because of the unlikely marketing campaign that started with a shocking trailer release just a couple of months ago, and prior to that moment the movie was never even announced as being in production. It never happens, finding out about a film so soon before it was to hit theaters, and the strategy was nothing short of brilliant. Each new look made the intrigue of this mysterious film intensify but the limited amount of time it was allowed to spend on anyone's radar meant it was impossible to feel 10 Cloverfield Lane fatigue. The fact that this was backed up by such a tremendous, well made work is the icing on the cake, and with each passing minute as I continue to process, replay and relive, I find myself more and more in love with 10 Cloverfield Lane.


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