10 Cloverfield Lane Is Only Disappointing If You're Expecting a Cloverfield Sequel

Friday, 11 March 2016 - 10:38AM
10 Cloverfield Lane
Friday, 11 March 2016 - 10:38AM
10 Cloverfield Lane Is Only Disappointing If You're Expecting a Cloverfield Sequel
10 Cloverfield Lane is a difficult movie to review, because its greatest strength is the crackling, nearly unbearable tension that comes from indecipherable character motivations and a nebulous, unknown threat lurking just outside the gates. But here's one thing I can tell you: it's not a Cloverfield sequel. It doesn't even really qualify as a "blood relative," as J.J. Abrams coyly called it during this guerilla marketing campaign. It takes place in the same universe, but aside from a few Easter eggs, this movie doesn't really have anything to do with Cloverfield. 

And yet, I can forgive them that blatant cash-grab marketing ploy, if it means that more movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane will get made by large studios. The tenuous Cloverfield connection gave them an excuse to make a character-driven, offbeat, old-fashioned thriller that was all the more satisfying for its small scope and elegant storytelling. The majority of the film that takes place in an underground bunker with only three characters, and it's a tour de force of claustrophobic filmmaking.

It's also anchored by three great performances; John Goodman has been getting the most attention for his turn as a survivalist with dubious credibility, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead is equally flawless as the protagonist, and the audience is with her every step of the way for this nailbiting emotional rollercoaster. 

It's not a perfect movie, by any means: the characterization is somewhat perfunctory considering how much time we spend with the characters (although the performances go a long way towards mitigating that), and I had a few problems with the last act of the movie, which I can't tell you for obvious reasons (unless you're not spoiler-averse, in which case you can unveil my thoughts on the twists below). But those qualms don't come close to outweighing everything that was great about the film. J.J. Abrams has increasingly been speaking of this movie as part of a Cloververse horror anthology (which he probably should have done in the first place), and if the quality of 10 Cloverfield Lane is any indication, we'll be there to see every single one. It may not have much to do with Cloverfield, but it was every bit as great as the modern classic Blair Witch monster movie, maybe even better.

Possible spoilers ahead! (Click to reveal)


Now let's talk about what actually happens in this movie. Over the first hour or so, it's revealed that the chemical apocalypse outside is, indeed, real, but that John Goodman's character is also a psychopath who kidnaps and kills young women as replacements for his dead daughter. These reveals are extremely well-done, and several scenes are nothing short of harrowing, including the woman dying of what looks like radiation poisoning, Mary Elizabeth Winstead finding the word "HELP" scratched on the inside of a window, and, most of all, John Goodman shooting John Gallagher Jr.'s character and dissolving him in a vat of acid, Breaking Bad-style.

Everything that happens in the bunker belongs in a nearly pitch-perfect, restrained sci-fi thriller, which makes it all the more jarring when the movie's third-act climax looks like it belongs in a thoroughly conventional alien invasion blockbuster. I don't have a problem with the reveal that the chemical apocalypse was caused by aliens, but the execution was off, as the action was way too over-the-top considering everything that came before. After that much subtlety, mystery, and restraint, seeing a giant alien pick up Mary Elizabeth Winstead's car and try to eat her, only to get immolated from the inside, bordered on absurd. I might be alone on this, but I probably would have been happier if she had left the bunker, taken off her mask as though everything was fine, seen alien spaceships fill the sky and drop Martians onto Earth from afar, and then cut to black.(Which is, incidentally, analogous to the rumored original ending to the script.)

So, ironically, the fact that the filmmakers felt the need to satisfy expectations that were raised by that Cloverfield-related title led to the worst part of the movie. Again, I'm glad they pulled this trick if it allowed the movie to get made, but I think I would have liked Valencia better.


10 Cloverfield Lane is now out in theaters.
Science Fiction
Sci-Fi Movies
10 Cloverfield Lane

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