Wednesday 6 February 2019

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

A confinement thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane builds up a fair amount of tension in a story of uncertain threat levels inside and outside a survival bunker.

In New Orleans, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) breaks up with her boyfriend and drives off. During the night and on an isolated rural stretch of highway, she crashes. When she wakes up, Michelle finds herself imprisoned in the well-equipped underground bunker of survivalist Howard (John Goodman). He claims to have rescued her from the crash scene, saving her life in the process as he insists humanity has effectively been annihilated due to an alien invasion and the air outside is irradiated.

The only other bunker occupant is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who helped Howard build the place. After overcoming initial tensions the trio settle down to a semblance of domesticity, passing the time playing board games and watching movies. But Howard is at least marginally unhinged and keeps bringing up his missing daughter. Michelle and Emmett have to decide whether staying inside the bunker is better than taking their chances on the outside.

A distant spiritual successor to Cloverfield and again produced by J.J. Abrams, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a more traditional thriller with some mild science fiction and horror moments. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, the film generates a steady current of suspense, with a stream of revelations maintaining an edge to Michelle's predicament. Every time Michelle resolves one problem another lies in wait, forcing her to adapt and re-adjust to changing realities.

The narrative draws most of its thrust from the two opposing forces of uncertainty. Life in the bunker with Howard carries an unnerving amount of danger, his behaviour erratic, sometimes threatening and his daughter references disconcerting. Whatever evil lives outside the bunker offers the prospect of a terrible outcome. One danger is known but maybe not an immediate source of harm, the other is unknown and potentially quickly lethal. 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps the dilemma in the balance, Michelle forced to continuously assess the stay or flee tradeoffs.

Unfortunately the ending is weak and tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film, Trachtenberg seemingly cutting to a whole different movie and abandoning all the carefully assembled psychological tautness.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is admirable in the central role, providing Michelle with a credible range of emotions from panic at her captivity to a stoic determination to take control of her fate.

10 Cloverfield Lane offers shelter to an engaging heroine, but with some unwelcome creature features.

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