ReelBob: ’10 Cloverfield Lane’

By Bob Bloom

Branding can be detrimental to a movie, creating expectations for audiences that filmmakers may not be able to meet or satisfy.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a perfect example of this. If the movie had been titled “The Bunker,” “The Cellar” or “The Shelter” it probably would not attract as much attention or interest as it has by having “Cloverfield” in the title.

The film is not a sequel to 2007’s found-footage alien monster rampaging “Cloverfield,” but they do have a tenuous connection. More on that later.

The film opens with a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of “Smashed”), fleeing her New Orleans apartment after a fight with her boyfriend.

For the first 10 minutes or so, you hear no dialogue, just the music of composer Bear McCreary on the soundtrack. It’s urgent with an unsettling undercurrent, recalling Marion Crane fleeing Phoenix in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

Michelle is involved in an accident; her car is knocked off the road. When she awakens, she is in a bare concrete room, an IV in her arm and a tourniquet-like device on her leg.

She is confused, frightened and disoriented, hearing strange sounds around her and having no idea where she is.

First-time director Dan Trachtenberg does a superb job of creating massive levels of anxiety and uncertainty.

Soon, Michelle meets Howard (John Goodman), a bear of a man who claims to have rescued her after the accident by bringing her to his underground shelter.

He goes on to inform her that the world she has known is gone; that some kind of attack — nuclear, chemical, aliens, he does not know for sure — has occurred and wiped out most of mankind.

Howard is a survivalist who has been building and stocking his shelter for years in preparation for such an event.

But, is he paranoid or crazy? Or is he telling the truth?

The cleverness of “10 Cloverfield Lane” is that it continually keeps the audience guessing, offering crumbs of hints, but never revealing its hand — at least for the first 95 of its 105-minute run time.

Trachtenberg and his production team have created a claustrophobic aura that permeates the movie. Even though Howard’s shelter is bigger than the 11-by-11-foot shed of “Room,” the characters — who also include Emmett (John Gallagher Jr., a neighbor of Howard’s) — feel caged.

Outside sounds and rumblings keep the characters — as well as the audience — guessing about what really is happening. Are helicopters or planes flying overhead, cars driving by or something much more ominous?

Goodman’s performance is the movie’s foundation. His sudden bursts of anger and his erratic behavior keep you off-kilter. You are unsure if some sort of catastrophe actually has occurred or if it is merely the delusion of an unbalanced mind.

Which returns us to branding. Since the movie has “Cloverfield” in the title, the screenwriters — Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle — must provide some concessions to the audience.

So, to no one’s surprise, they do in the film’s finale. In the blink of an eye, the feature morphs from a psychological thriller to something that resembles a 1980s’ science-fiction classic with an iconic heroine.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a solid movie — no mistake about it. It keeps you mentally alert and on your toes, constantly searching the edges of the screen for clues about the actual reality of the situation.

And while the ending is exciting, it is somewhat unsatisfying because — in the back of your mind — you knew it was coming because “Cloverfield” was in the title.

This movie would have been better served without that cinematic anchor around its chest.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

 

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
3 stars out of 4
(PG-13), disturbing images, mature themes, violence, language

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