The original Cloverfield was a great movie. It had shaky-cam, but it used it to good effect. More importantly, it was backed by solid acting and a good story (for the most part). When I saw the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, I initially didn’t think it was related to Cloverfield, but once I saw the title I got pretty psyched up for this “sequel”. Having “Cloverfield” in the name surely couldn’t be a coincidence.
I expected the new movie to focus on those baby things during the subway scene in the first one, so I was quite surprised by the ending, and for more than one reason. This movie is a thriller, and so if you’re planning to watch it, I’d recommend coming back to this review afterward, as the film depends heavily on tension and suspense for effect, and that can really only be experienced when you don’t know what happens next.
I should state outright that I think this film was mediocre. It did a lot of things that were good, didn’t do anything that was great, and did one major thing that was bad, all of which will be discussed. The strongest element of this movie was the atmosphere and the acting.
I rescind my earlier statement. One thing that the film does great is take the audience on a roller coaster ride with regards to Goodman’s character. Our perception of him alternates between psycho and sweetheart fairly quickly, which is a testament to the film’s efficiency and pacing. As animosity within the group develops, there is a very real sense of discomfort permeating from the screen, culminating in shocking confrontations.
This is possible in huge part to the acting. Winstead delivers an okay performance as the protagonist, though her character seems to be a token horror/thriller victim, and her performance wasn’t particularly inspired. Gallagher (the guy in the arm sling) does a great job making us like his character and feeling sorry for him in a short amount of time. He’s just the simple goody two shoes who loves cracking jokes, but somehow the character isn’t boring, and instead fits perfectly in between the other two players. Goodman does a fantastic job portraying a mentally unstable farmer with a shady past. The character is downright unsettling when he’s upset, and Goodman does many subtle things to get under the audience’s skin; a hallmark of a great actor.
The premise of the story is also really interesting. I actually don’t think it’s fair to mention this since this isn’t really a part of the film that is whole, but I’m a sucker for zombie movies, and the fallout shelter theme as depicted in this movie gives off very similar vibes, which for me was a plus. Unfortunately, this is where the good stuff ends.
The movie ended on a low point for me, and I think I was mostly disappointed by the fact that 10 Cloverfield Lane has nothing to do with Cloverfield. In this film, the protagonist (who looks remarkably like another character from the first movie) wakes up to find herself in a bunker with two men. She initially is skeptical of Goodman’s explanation that a nuclear war has begun, and becomes scared when she learns about his alien theory. That must mean that in the film’s universe, the Clover monster hasn’t attacked New York, otherwise she’d have no problem with a guy who believes in aliens.
This film was never marketed as a direct sequel, but the marketing campaign was similar, and the most obvious connection is the word Cloverfield in both titles. How much blame does the marketing team deserve for misleading movie-goers? I’m not sure. If I were tasked with making people interested in a new film, of course I would bank on the success of an earlier movie from the same producer, especially if the premise is similar. Most fans of Cloverfield will likely be disappointed by what feels like a cheap trick: “here’s a possible continuation of the story you liked, and you might even get an explanation too, but no, not really. Ha ha.”
The primary reason why this film doesn’t work is because it’s an incomplete story. It is revealed near the end that aliens have indeed invaded Earth, but it is unclear whether this has anything to do with the Cloverfield monster. It is suggested that Clover was sent to Earth in order to decimate the population before the main forces arrive, but it’s never confirmed, or even strongly hinted at beyond fan implication. Giving the audience room to engage with their imagination is great, but there’s a fine line between that and fragmented storytelling. There’s just not enough to establish a concrete, overarching storyline, and that’s why I left the theatre feeling like I was missing something. So what did the aliens really want? Why did they come to Earth? What the heck is going on?
Was the point of the entire movie to teach the protagonist how to stand up for others? Character arcs are great, but with no other significant elements to the story, the entire thing becomes trivial, sorta like how Constantine ended up being about a guy and his journey to quit smoking. I went in expecting a monster movie, and the whole trapped-in-a-bunker scenario is a familiar face in that genre, but the actual monster part of the film was poorly executed.
The Monster Inside
Perhaps this film really wanted to talk about the monsters inside each of us, as Goodman’s character is strongly implied to be a kidnapping murderer. The problem is that this has already been done by superior films and most of them aren’t even alien-flicks, so 10 Cloverfield Lane has been outdone before it even begins. The film would’ve been better off excluding the aliens completely. The whole alien thing sets up a false promise that distracts from the strength of the film’s identity: that of human relations.
In the end, the film fails because it lacks focus. It doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be an alien movie or a psychology movie. From my understanding the script was purchased by Paramount, and was originally titled “The Cellar.” I can totally see how they took that material, which would’ve focused on a woman trapped in a cellar with two men, and decided to stick aliens into it, and loosely tie it to the Cloverfield universe. It has been championed before here on gamobo, but focused storytelling is the best kind of storytelling. Go in multiple directions and you’ll only end up lost, which is exactly what 10 Cloverfield Lane feels like. Nothing substantial has been said by movie’s end.
I wouldn’t recommend 10 Cloverfield Lane to anyone, except for those who are looking for a great performance by John Goodman. There are plenty of movies that do what this film tries to do but better: Cube, 28 Days Later, even 12 Angry Men. It passes as a psychological movie, but it hinges on a single actor’s performance, while on the other hand in completely flops as an alien movie. The only way I can see this film being salvaged is if they eliminate the alien stuff completely, then perhaps the film’s story would’ve been more relevant.
This has been a gamobo review.