10 Cloverfield Lane
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Review By Mike DeAngelo:
It’s difficult to review a movie where one should know as little as possible going in to it. There aren’t a lot of major studio films that have the luxury of mystery due to the insane amount of marketing that’s thrown behind 95% of their releases. Look at Batman V. Superman, for example. Their marketing approach is about a subtle as a hammer to the face. They want to spoon feed the audience the entire plot, so they can know exactly what to expect going into the movie. I understand what they have invested in the film and how much they need it to succeed, but this approach drives me a bit batty (pun intended). It takes away a lot of the wonder that one can experience in the theater.
Like them or not, J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot know how to market a damn movie. From something as small as the first Cloverfield to the massive Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they reveal only what they need to intrigue an audience and nothing more. With Star Wars, they gave you glimpses of moments here and there, but revealed basically nothing in the process. The marketing preserved the mystery for the theatrical experience, and was a breath of fresh air compared to other blockbusters in the last 10-20 years. But, it wasn’t anything new - J.J. has been doing this for a long time. The first time I remember seeing what’s been lovingly referred to as “The J.J. Abrams Mystery Box Approach,” I was sitting in a theater waiting for some movie I can’t remember and the trailer for Cloverfield came on – in fact, they didn’t even reveal the title. Only 1/18/08 – the release date. Here’s how effective that trailer was – I didn’t just look that date up. I remember it specifically because of the trailer. I have a terrible memory. I can’t remember certain family member’s birthdays most years, but I remember 1/18/08 because the trailer etched it into my damn brain with only a few mysterious hints at what was to come and nothing more. I think I liked the marketing more than the actual movie – and I’m a fan of the movie. (Check out the first trailer for the original Cloverfield movie below!)
Imagine my surprise when, after years of J.J. Abrams saying that there was no Cloverfield sequel in the works, the 10 Cloverfield Lane trailer pops up out of nowhere – not only that, it was less than a mere couple months before release. The Mystery Box returns – and with a Cloverfield sequel! Huzzah!
So, after all of this marketing babble, did the mystery box deliver again? The answer is a complicated yes and no. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a pretty damn good movie, but it’s almost done a disservice by its inherent relation to the first Cloverfield movie. Just having Cloverfield in the title both telegraphs some of the twists and misleads at the same time. That’s not to say that there are zero surprises to be had – there are some genuine shocks, but they are softened by the title.
In some ways the movie feels like a reaction to the criticism of the first Cloverfield. Hated the shaky cam? Gone! Hated the spoiled brats that refused to listen to logic? Gone! Hated the corny love story? Blammo! Be gone!
As many reviews are mentioning, every actor brings their A-game for this one. John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr. all do a phenomenal job not only bringing the characters to life, but making them very human. Some are saying that John Goodman deserves Oscar recognition for the role. While his performance is top-notch, I think the movie hinges on Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance more than anything – and she nails it. Not only does her character have a wonderful arc, but she’s another welcome addition to the modern badass/smart/real female roles that have been cropping up in action movies lately.
Now let’s try to discuss the last 10-15 minutes without spoilers…this should be fun. If you've yet to see it and want to go in completely clueless, i'd turn back now. I'm going to avoid spoilers, but there are some structural spoilers that are unavoidable in the discussion of the film's final act.....
Still here? OK! All I can say is that the movie shifts so jarringly that it’s hard to reconcile it in your head. It’s a completely different movie – a movie that I would also see, but a big change, nonetheless. Not that the change is all that shocking, it just slaps you in the face with how quickly the previous hour and change is abandoned for a very different kind of movie. Again, it’s not that I hated the last 15 minutes, I just feel like it was a bit unnecessary. I personally would have kept the original scripted ending that’s floating around the web, as it feels smaller and more in line with the movie that came before.
Overall, the film is a very tense, well-acted, and well-made piece of cinema. Director Dan Trachtenberg should be proud of his debut feature film, and will no doubt have a very fruitful career in Hollywood. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves a good thriller. Just try to eliminate any expectation of a significant connection to its namesake and you should enjoy it just fine.
In the words of a great man, that’s all I have to say about that…
OVERALL RATING: 8/10 Mystery Boxes