Cloverfield was an interesting movie. Not to watch mind you, the movie was completely dull to watch, for the same reasons that made it fascinating. It was a movie with a ton of energy put into it, with a huge well thought out backstory for the monster, a unique visual design for the monster and some incredible special effects used to realize it, and absolutely none of that made it to the screen.
That, in essence, makes Cloverfield a movie that chose to be bad. It had every opportunity to be a good movie, and it avoided all of them, instead preferring to showcase a limp and boring story about intensely unlikeable people. It makes for an odd, and frustrating, viewing experience knowing about all that backstory. It also made me incredibly nervous going into the sequel (or possibly just spiritual sequel) 10 Cloverfield Lane.
The plot, which on the outset has nothing or next to nothing to do with the original, is devoted to Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who, while driving away from a failed relationship, is run off the road mysteriously. She wakes up in a bunker run by a mysterious man named Howard (John Goodman).
Howard tells her she can’t leave because there’s been some kind of attack on the outside and they, along with a man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), can’t leave until it’s clear. But it becomes rapidly clear that there is something very…off about Howard and that the situation in general, and Howard in particular, may be more volatile than it initially appears. Plus there’s the whole, “He might be lying” thing.
While not at all related to Cloverfield, that’s not a bad setup. The premise of a character being trapped in a very small space with two completely unknown elements (one of whom is clearly unstable, and possibly dangerous) is an inherently engaging one, and the film does a lot with it. Perhaps it’s the middling budget or only one big name star, but the film seems to have a good sense of its strengths and limitations, and how to make them work into a solid movie.
The biggest strength is, oddly enough, Goodman. He’s best known for his jolly persona, but his imposing size and deep voice make him extremely well suited to more intimidating performances (something the Coen brothers have made use of on multiple occasions). Here he gives a very strange performances, slowly revealing to the audience just enough so that they know something is off, without tipping his hand as to what it is.
Which is a neat trick of the script as well. The movie knows it has a limited space and cast with which to move the plot along, and thus manages to make a mystery out of slowly drip feeding information in pieces, so the audience learns these things alongside the characters. It makes for a better mystery (and eventual twist) when the mystery feels authentic and organic, rather than cheap or built out of lies.
The other major factor in 10 Cloverield Lane being good is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She dropped off my radar after Scott Pilgrim (although she was in that terrible Thing remake from 2011) but she’s giving her A game here. The film is so focused on her, and her emotional journey, that if she wasn’t up the task, the movie would probably collapse.
Fortunately she’s giving a good performance, finding a sweet spot between the panic and desperation she feels at her situation and the intelligence and proficiency required to overcome it. It’s hard for an actress to credibly sell both angles, but she does it pretty well, and it makes me kind of hope her start might be on the rise again (she was also in the f**king awful latest Die Hard movie).
Combined with some solid direction, an okay sense of pacing and some good soundtrack choices, the film winds up a solid early year film. It’s also got, and I don’t want to spoil here, one hell of an ending. I’m certain once enough people have seen it to actually discuss it, it’ll become a divisive ending, but for right now, I’ve seen it and I liked it.
Not that the movie is without flaws. While I like the ending (and it’s a strange, strange ending), this is one of those rare moments where I can actually understand why some people might not like it. It also has some flow issues towards the third act, when the movie begins rushing towards its climax without much time to slow down and build on what’s come before (and it’s not like the movie was running out of time, it’s barely an hour and 40 minutes). And while John Gallagher Jr. doesn’t give a bad performance, it’s hard to ignore that he, and his character, is much weaker than Goodman and Winstead.
March is usually when good, or at least well anticipated, movies begin to come out, so it’s surprising that this isn’t as good as some February movies, such as The Witch or Hail, Caesar! (still haven’t seen Deadpool). But it’s still a solid movie, engaging, enjoyable and…I dunno, something else with E? What I’m trying to say is that I liked it, and you might too.
Entertaining. Got it, that’s my third E word.
Elessar is a 26 year old Alaskan born cinephile and if this ending is saying what he thinks it is, it might just redeem a huge chunk of Cloverfield.
– Goodman and Winstead are great
– solid script and mystery
– good direction
– rushes to its climax a bit
– Gallagher isn’t as good as the other two
– ending might be divisive