10 Cloverfield Lane

Went to see 10 Cloverfield Lane tonight, the semi-sequel but not really but kinda maybe if you think about it kinda-sorta sequel(ish) to the giant monster attacks NYC movie Cloverfield from 8 years ago. Is this a sequel? Is it not? I won’t say… except that it’s by the same producers and its called 10 Cloverfield Lane… so maybe? Or not. You know. Wink wink or maybe not wink wink?
What it IS is a movie about a very resourceful girl played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead who gets into a bad car accident and wakes up in an underground bunker, held captive (or possibly rescued by) an unnerving John Goodman (there’s another guy in there with her – a younger man with a broken arm). Goodman tells her there was an attack of some kind – maybe biological, maybe nuclear, maybe something else… and he saved her by bringing her to the shelter.
Who attacked? Maybe the Russians… maybe the Martians if they figured out how to get to Earth (Goodman says early on). Is he crazy? That last bit is meant to make us think so… but this is also called 10 Cloverfield Lane where there was clearly a giant monster attacking NYC. But nobody in this movie mentions that… though Winstead clearly thinks the Martian theory is crazy. So maybe this isn’t in the same universe as Cloverfield or maybe it is… or maybe it’s a prequel and a sequel or maybe a side-quel.
All this obsession is basically the problem at the heart of the movie. By calling it 10 Cloverfield Lane, they largely suggest something HAS happened outside of the bunker and it probably wasn’t military… or maybe it was. Or maybe nothing is happening… yet it’s called 10 Cloverfield Lane so it suggest something did happen. I’m debating whether the maybe/maybe not dichotomy is intentional since the characters go through a lot of uncertainty themselves. For the movie-goer, there’s that extra layer of this maybe sorta being a sequel kinda that informs our understanding that the characters don’t seem to have.
In all honesty, I was super distracted by the title. If the movie had kept its original title and not hinted at anything, then the “is he crazy or is he not” would have felt more natural.
Now, all that said, there is some real tension in the film. It can be very suspenseful. John Goodman swings expertly from kind of nice but a little creepy to deeply unsettling. His sheer mass as a human being against Winstead’s small frame is used very effectively – she’s smart, she’s crafty, but she’s no match for him physically (and neither is the other guy in the bunker).
Unfortunately, I didn’t think everything in the bunker was as shocking or as surprising as the movie clearly wanted me to think it was. Which is a disappointment and maybe everything will work on a different movie goer, but to me there were a number of lost opportunities – moments of should-be-shocking.
The ending of the movie will either win you over or lose you… but I won’t say how it ends. But it does, at least, end with answers to the questions the movie set forth. I liked the ending, personally. It was probably enough to make up for the uneven stuff in the middle. Between that and the excellent acting and the suspense that did work, I can basically recommend the movie.
Score: 80

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