Saturday, July 9, 2016

Movie Reviews: 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane
directed by Dan Trachtenberg
This film tries and succeeds in having it both ways. It  could be a sequel or even a reworking of the 2008 movie Cloverfield and a film that stands completely on its own. The events in Cloverfield are only obliquely referenced if at all. In fact for the vast majority of 10 Cloverfield Lane the events of the previous film do not matter. As the previous film came out 8 years previously 10 Cloverfield Lane would have to be its own film anyway. This movie is mostly a psychological thriller. If you are the sort of person who has a low tolerance for violence this film is generally safe to watch as violence doesn't occur very much. There are only three primary characters in the entire film. On the other hand the film definitely uses a variety of techniques to make you think that violence is imminent. And when the violence does happen it's not cheap or played for laughs. It actually has a purpose. You care about the people it touches. The film regularly ratchets up and relieves tension or makes you think that it relieves tension. Although the film touches on the weird and the abnormal mostly near the ending of the film, everything else that has happened prior is really the meat and potatoes of the movie. The comedian Louis C.K has a thoughtful little bit about how weird, strange, and wonderful it is that women ever go out with men at all considering that men can pose significant physical dangers to women. Humans do not have the greatest sexual dimorphism in mammalian species but our average sexual size differences are great enough that most people would cringe at the idea of a woman fighting a man. I was reminded of Louis C.K.'s bit watching this movie. 

There is a strong argument to be made that this entire film is actually a parable about domestic violence. 10 Cloverfield Lane puts me in mind of some old Tales From The Crypt or Twilight Zone episodes. This movie is an example of how a low budget and limited sets need not harm a movie if the acting and writing are good, as is the case here. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a tall but slightly built woman (5-8, 120-130lbs?) who just had an argument with her boyfriend, She hits the road. But she doesn't get too far before she's sideswiped by a truck and forced off the road. Her car tumbles and flips.

She's hurt and blacks out. When Michelle wakes up she's chained to a wall in a basement somewhere. Her cell phone doesn't work. The man who brings her food is the hulking (6-2, 250lb+) Howard (John Goodman). Howard claims to have found Michelle at the accident site and brought her home to his underground bunker. He doesn't explain why he chained her to the wall. Howard may or may not have sexual interest in Michelle. The movie keeps that ambiguous. Is Howard looking for a daughter surrogate or a sexual surrogate or a friend or some whacked out combination of all three. We don't know. What's isn't ambiguous is that Howard is both a lonely man and a domineering one. Although he eventually unchains Michelle he won't let her leave the bunker. Howard says that there has been some sort of big attack. The air is unbreathable and radioactiove. It could be the end of the world. A former military man, Howard has been waiting and preparing for just such an occasion. That is why he has a bunker and little ameneties like backup generators, air purifiers, toilets and showers that share water and everything else your friendly neighborhood survivalist could possibly want. 

Howard thinks that it could be a year or more before it's safe to leave the bunker. Michelle may as well forget about any friends or family she has. They're dead. Michelle should be very thankful to Howard as far as Howard is concened. And if she's smart she'll let Howard know how grateful she is. As Howard outweighs Michelle by over 100 pounds, is apparently a few fries short of a happy meal and is never without his revolver, Michelle finds that agreeing with Howard is usually the path of least resistance. But she has plans and questions. She haltingly shares these with the other bunker resident Emmett (John Gallagher), a handyman who believes at least some of Howard's story. Howard doesn't seem to like Emmett very much. Howard only reluctantly let Emmet into the bunker. Howard definitely doesn't want Emmett talking too much to Michelle. 

Over time this group of people slowly learns to live together. But Michelle finds too much that is odd or questionable about Howard's story and for that matter Howard himself. Howard's need for emotional and physical control makes for an unstable living arrangement. Just do what I say and don't make me hurt you is not an ethos which adds to domestic tranquility. Michelle is too smart to ignore logical inconsistencies.The viewer will enjoy watching Michelle notice things in Howard's story that bother her or contradict evidence of her own senses. There's a lot of gaslighting going on in this story. That technique is actually Howard's go to weapon. Howard also notices more than he lets on and is much smarter than some people realize.

The vast majority of this film takes place in very small areas. This adds to the claustrophobic feel of the movie. Goodman is very impressive here. He is self-pitying without being whiny. He can give off dangerous vibes just by asking simple questions. If you have ever seen or lived with emotionally volatile people Goodman's character of Howard will be familiar.  Michelle and Emmet each have a vested interest in reading Howard's moods and trying to figure out his thoughts ahead of time. An angry Howard is a dangerous Howard. Michelle is realistic in that she uses the tools she has to attempt to discover what's truly going on.

There is also some foreshadowing put to good use. Howard compels Michelle to do something for his benefit that can only be done by her, not realizing that the canny Michelle will later do this same thing for her own purposes. All in all this was a good movie. But don't watch it if you are expecting butt-kicking babes, tons of special effects or loads and loads of violence.
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