For the last decade or so, the name J.J. Abrams seemed to be synonymous with enigmatic productions, starting by way of the television series, "Lost," and taking it to the near-Spielbergian level with 2011's Super 8. The biggest splash he'd made was with 2008's Cloverfield, the found-footage giant creature feature flick. Now, it may or may not have its merits, but when I say that Abrams made a big splash with it, I'm referring to the trailer that debuted in the summer of 2007. What caused a stir was the choice to play snippets of the film, showing the money-shot of the Statue of Liberty's decapitated head rolling down a street with people screaming and running for their lives, and ending with the text of the release date—that's it. No title, no credits...nothing but the date. People went out of their minds, wondering what we were seeing. At the time, the consensus from the internet ramblings-from myself as well-was thinking it had to be a new Godzilla movie. Everybody wanted to know—had to know—what was the title of the movie and what was it going to be about. At that point in time, in my opinion, J.J. Abrams solidified himself as a household name. What's funny about all of it was that Abrams wasn't the director of the film—it was Matt Reeves, who'd done an excellent job with the material.
So, with Cloverfield being such a memorable movie, hearing about an Abrams production called 10 Cloverfield Lane, you can guess what everyone thought...that Abrams finally had gotten a sequel. Additionally, after seeing the first trailer, your mind tended to think this was a sequel of sorts to the 2008 movie since there had been talk about getting a sequel made, sometimes discussing that it would be during the same timeline, only from a different point of view. My mind hadn't gone that route, but I thought it was very interesting that the film had the name in the title.
I have to admit that this film had snuck up on me, only seeing the trailer when the title was firmly in place. I'd heard that the production started off as The Cellar which, after seeing the movie, would've been an appropriate title. Probably The Bunker or Fall-Out Shelter would've been even better, but the title is what it is. To me, it seems as if Abrams and company decided to put "Cloverfield" in the title to gain massive interest and to have potential movie-goers think they were heading in to a Cloverfield sequel. If that's the case, to me, that's really not fair and kind of a cheat.
But...I have to put my Cinema Bits goggles on and try not to have any extensive reconsideration about what I had seen, so without any further ado, let me break down the synopsis of 10 Cloverfield Lane.
After getting into a car accident, a young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is held in a shelter with two men-the owner of the shelter, Howard (John Goodman), and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.)-who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.
Now, I wrote, at length, about J.J. Abrams and a few of his past productions, but 10 Cloverfield Lane is directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Trachtenberg doesn't really have a huge résumé of films that he's directed—in fact, he only has five on his IMDb.com bio, with a few other miscellaneous productions as a writer, assistant director, editor, etc. He's directed two short films, a television episode, this film, and an upcoming production. So, there's not much I can say about his past work, seeing as how I hadn't seen one of them. But what he's done here is created some great tension, a sense of wonder, and a fabulous back-and-forth on what's true and what's not. Anyone who can get John Goodman to play this serious of a character with a bit of a schizophrenic side to him, I give them props.
With all that said, this film surprised me—especially the climax (I won't spoil it for you in case you haven't seen it). The majority of the film takes place in the bunker, but don't let that turn you off from it. I'd mentioned that there was a lot of back-and-forth in this story and most of it is within this underground shelter. You go from thinking that Howard is just a good guy, trying to help Michelle because of some attack on U.S. soil, to thinking that it's too much of a coincidence that she gets into an accident on that day. Michelle goes from not believing Howard and trying to escape the shelter to accepting what has happened and deciding to stay. Yes, there's a lot here in the first two acts and you're constantly going from thinking Goodman's character is a conspiracy theorist wacko to seeing that he may know more than anyone else thinks, then back to believing he's a lunatic.
The film features many tension-filled scenes and it's all due to John Goodman's performance as he goes from a nice guy, to a hothead, to a creep. Of course, Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings her leers from The Thing remake, but it works here. John Gallagher Jr. plays the softhearted hick who believes Goodman's character, but decides to help out our heroine of the story.
As always, I can pick out a few things that don't make sense or subplots that go nowhere. Especially with what Michelle and Emmett find out about Howard, how we're never given an answer to his bit of backstory, but then maybe the purpose of that was to throw off the audience and make them believe everything was made up. And that's what happens when I think of something from this film that didn't make sense...it seems logical if put in perspective of placing it in the story to make the audience take sides with the characters. One thing for sure, there are a lot of conveniences in this film, like during one scene where Winstead's character is about to escape the bunker, not believing the end-of-the-world explanation, when something just happens to transpire to make her rethink everything.
One of the biggest suspensions of disbelief you'll have to go through is when Michelle and Emmett decide to create a hazmat suit in case they're able to get outside the bunker. They devise an easy enough plan to be able to obtain the materials needed, but being that the bunker can't be that big of a space, they seem to have ample room and time to go through the risks to put the suit together without Howard catching them, since he's proven to be a bit dangerous by this point in the film. The bunker's not that big, yet they're able to do the work freely without worrying about being caught. Maybe they were doing this while Howard was sleeping or showering, but the movie never establishes that and it all seemed a little too convenient for the story.
As a whole, I liked and enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane, it kept me in my seat and there really were never any lulls or boring filler throughout. Questions arose and were answered by the climax of the film, so nothing will seem unsatisfying when you get to the end...besides leaving the film open for a sequel. The acting was above average, nothing that would deserve an Oscar, but it kept the story believable and engrossing.
J.J. Abrams had gone on the record, when asked if this film was a sequel to Cloverfield, saying that there was some association with the 2008 film, but that this was not a sequel...and I agree to some extent. But when you get to the end of this film, you understand what he means by the two films having some sort of association with each other. There are a few Easter Eggs you may or may not catch, like the "Kelvin" gas station or the "Slusho" brand of slushy drink, but Abrams likes to slip those in within most of his productions.
Well, I've said all I can say without spoiling too much about the film, so let me just some it up with my final "bit"...
The movie will grab you and not let you go until that final scene. The few actors in the movie are very likable, or at least mesmerizing enough to make you want to keep on watching once you've started. Overall, it's a story that will make you wait to see how it'll all end. Does the film have rewatchability? I can't say that it does...I usually base my enjoyment of a film if I say to myself during the movie that I can't wait to purchase the Blu-Ray for my collection. I didn't say it here, but I think I'd watch it again if it were to pop up on cable one night. I say that you shouldn't miss it, if you haven't seen it yet, and that you should go out and rent it. It's a good Friday night watch!
That's about it for 10 Cloverfield Lane...thanks for reading!