Film Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

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Oh my goodness GRACIOUS, readers. Remember when the teaser for 10 Cloverfield Lane suddenly dropped two months ago? And J.J. Abrams revealed that a spinoff film of the original Cloverfield (that completely bananas found footage monster movie from 2008, you know the one) had been filmed ENTIRELY IN SECRET? And would, indeed, be coming out in two months? Which was a pretty much unprecedented move, considering how films — particularly intense-looking science fiction-tinged thrillers such as this one – have their trailers released months in advance and, in an ideal marketing situation, take time to build public interest and anticipation so theaters are full on opening weekend? And then this announcement was followed by a mysterious online ARG reminiscent of the 2008 movie’s original trail of virtual breadcrumbs? Remember when all of that happened? Well, we’re here, today’s the day, and I personally went to see the film my very own self just so I could tell you that yes, it’s totally great.

I won’t get too deeply into detail about the plot here, simply because the movie has so many excellent twists and turns that are far, far better unspoiled. However, most basic summaries are content to explain that the film is about a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) , who gets into a car accident and is promptly rescued by a man named Howard (John Goodman) who takes her to an underground bunker — and then tells her she can’t leave, because a chemical attack has rendered the outside world unsurvivable. What ensues is a taut, careful drama focused on the interplay between Michelle, Howard, and a third member of the shelter named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.).

It’s tense and funny and dark and clever and so, so solid. There are awesome performances from all of the leads: Gallagher gets to be likably subtle and endearing, Goodman is clearly having fun with a role that is equal parts vulnerability and menace, and Winstead immediately wins you over with her action hero resourcefulness plus psychological depth. I had the time of my life.

That being said, the movie does come with its own baggage, and it’s mainly due to the advertising. Without giving too much away, 10 Cloverfield Lane’s connection to 2008 Cloverfield can generally be described as tenuous, and as a consequence, I’ve read a few different (and otherwise positive!) reviews expressing frustration with the fact that the movies are publicly linked at all.  A common opinion seems to be that presenting 10CL as a tie-in was a simple marketing ploy, rather than due to something that inherently links the two stories. If you’re skeptical enough, you may believe that the Powers That Be didn’t feel 10 Cloverfield Lane would seem interesting on its own without people thinking it would expand on another movie’s complex mythos. No matter what you theorize about reasons for the new film’s branding, that distant relationship is what it is, and it’s up to you how much it influences your opinion of Michelle and company’s story.

My advice? Judge 10 Cloverfield Lane on its own merits first. Give it a chance to unfold without the weight of another movie on top of it, even if that goes directly against what the marketing encouraged you to do. If the ambiguity and lack of dot-connecting still bother you, then hey: to each their own! But, personally, I have room in my heart for all Cloverfields. They’re separate narratives with individual creative teams, but I think there’s a case to be made for how they can still resonate as a pair, thematically and emotionally. And, even if there’s nothing more to it, there are worse things to be linked by than a spooky/fun atmosphere, a nail-biting tone, and the good old-fashioned experience of watching characters be pushed to their limits by monsters both inside and out.

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