10 Cloverfield Lane: Children behave… (****1/2)

10cloverfieldlane10 Cloverfield Lane – 2016

Director Dan Trachtenberg
Screenplay by Josh Campbel, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr., Bradley Cooper (voice)

After being rumored for years, word of a Cloverfield sequel dissipated with the release of Pacific Rim and Godzilla. Truthfully, it was not something I looked forward to, after getting caught up in the onslaught of press surrounding the original, I found it is nearly unwatchable a 2nd time.  This was for no other reason than the jarring hand held camera bestowed by the incredibly annoying T.J. Miller, at his most T.J. Millerest. Still, the concept was sound, they left the film at the right moment and we realized the human race is certainly doomed.

Forward to January  15, 2016 when people watching 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi got to see one of the better trailers of the last 5 years. The reveal is slow and ominous take on a survival bunker that could be any other film (and originally was a script called The Cellar). In the end we are given the title and a completely unexpected tie in when the title hits the screen.

It would have been a hollow victory if the movie had sucked.

Starting off in some unnamed coastal town on the Gulf of Mexico, we see Michelle (Winstead) driving through rural Louisiana away from her fiance (voice of Bradley Cooper). She is distraught and distracted and as a result she is involved in an accident. Next time we see her, she is cuffed to a wall and on a mat in a concrete room, patched up and connected to fluids.

Howard (Goodman) is the man responsible for her being there gives her an explanation on why she should be grateful for him getting her there. They have been attacked by some foreign entity. Could be another country or another planet. The world is doomed because there is a contagion out there as part of the attack. No one is safe outside of the bunker that he created. She is safe now, thanks to him. It may not surprise anyone that she fails to feel that safe.

Also in the bunker is Emmett (Gallagher, Jr.), a fellow survivor who saw the attack first hand and came there to survive, given the fact that he helped Howard build it. The relationship between the trio shifts through varying degrees of trust, but there is something seemingly wrong with Howard beyond the fact that his ex-wife took away his daughter Megan.

It is through the passages back and forth within the confines of the bunker that the story excels. If it had been developed more actively with Cloverfield in mind, it’s doubtful they could have come up with something that is so satisfying on its own before we even get a chance to see what is really happening outside of the bunker. There are some pretty drastic surprises and exceptional interplay between the 3 leads. Goodman has not been this uncomfortably entertaining since The Big Lebowski. With Emmett, he has another Donnie. And I kept waiting for him to tell the hapless guy “you’re out of your element.”

This is the rare case where the tie in works for the right reasons. This film should be a hit of pretty good proportion. Most are going to be drawn in by the title and the fact that while it’s related, it’s not filmed the same way as the first. People will definitely enjoy this film more than they did the first one and it’s that element that has the potential to push it beyond the first, as shelf life goes.

Winstead is an underrated actress who has a yeoman-like ability to be in films without leaving a huge impression. When discussing the film with my friends Binage and Doug, I asked if I was the only one who saw the irony of seeing John McClane’s daughter crawling through air ducts like her father. Both of them just stared. Then it slowly dawned on them as I reminded them that she played his daughter in Live Free or Die Hard. I didn’t bother going into her other stranded in a bunker sequel (well, in the cold) The Thing.

That the movie feels complete without even leaving the bunker is a good thing, because the only real backward step is once CGI is involved. It’s not horrible, and it certainly ads another twist. The story comes to an end just before becoming another type of movie entirely. Here’s hoping that if they make a third film, they take another left turn rather than following any of the threads from the first two films.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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