10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) Review

In my lifetime, I can recall seeing only a handful of films where I felt so uncomfortable I had to get up for some air and take a break.  One film was Hellraiser (1987) —the hooks and chains were a bit too much for my 80’s sensibilities, another was Se7en (1995), having subject matter so dark it even bothers me to this day, the brilliant Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Saw (2004)(I dislike torture films).  I probably would have been uncomfortable watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), which I only later discovered on VHS in college. The other film is this one.

From the opening prologue and title sequence, paying homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho, with  the film’s protagonist Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on the lam from a bad relationship traveling out there and being in the wrong place and the wrong time, this film extends tentacles and grabs you and  pulls the viewer into a subterranean fallout shelter, and never decelerates until the very end titles. I felt short of breath most of the movie, with walls closing in on me, which was the intent of the writers and director Dan Trachtenberg. Add a riveting Herrmmannesque score by Bear McCreary (The Walking Dead, 2010-) and superb acting propels this film into near perfect suspense-thriller space.

However, the real attraction of this film is watching John Goodman, playing Howard, a grizzled ex-Navy/defense contractor farmer and conspiracy theorist who built an escape portal for the time he knew was coming.  Goodman has always been a presence (he stole the show in Argo), but with this material he is elevated to one of the Top 100 villainous role of all time. I might even put him in Top 50.  In a few shots cinematographer Jeff Cutter uses Goodman to fill half the screen.  He reminds me of Orson Welles’ voluminous Hank Quinlan (Touch of Evil, 1958) an ambiguous character you know is a bit off kilter.  In this film Goodman is positively wacko (an apocalypse might be occurring and he is worried about using drink coasters on a family heirloom table), but the viewer doesn’t know if he’s cracked because of what’s happening in the outside world, or is he the one creating the chaos.  Is he a hero or a kidnapper?

I like Mary Elizabeth Winstead, an underrated actor who’s believable as a person who can take care of herself. We’ve seen her before in The Thing (2011). John Gallager plays Emmett, a contractor/neighbor who is also trapped within the confines of Howard’s shelter.  He builds a slow friendship with Michelle creating tension and paranoia with their uneasy relationship with Howard.

A nod to producer J.J. Abrams who called this film a bit of a gamble. It came out of nowhere! The first trailer I had seen was during the Super Bowl. I won’t say what the relationship of this film is to Cloverfield (2008), but Abrams set the tone for me thinking the films were in some way connected.  Just sit back and enjoy.

***1/2 out of ****. Highly recommended. Not for claustrophobes.


Teaser Trailer

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