10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two
men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical
attack.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Starring John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jnr
     
You wake up shackled to the wall by handcuffs, you have no idea where you are, or who is holding you captive, but no, you’re not the latest unwitting victim of Jigsaw? What can possibly be going on? Well, the similarities of the opening of 10 Cloverfield Lane are strikingly similar to the first and very best of the Saw franchise. Even as viewer, you’re immediately on edge. Salaciously, you can only hope at this stage that Trachtenberg can keep it up long enough for you blow your cinematic load by the end.

And by the end in question, the answer is probably not. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll most likely be disappointed by the last five to ten minutes of this feature, as it seems to be a little too simple for what has gone before. If you haven’t, then you’ll probably be delighted by it as the denouement is probably what you turned up for in the first place. This is not a ‘Cloverfield’ movie, in the sense that it doesn’t feature any first-person found-footage and no huge monster decimating a city, so don’t go into it expecting as much, as you will be one cheesed off punter by the time you’re ninety percent done.

This is, for the most part at least, a very admirable close-quarters thriller. It is equally absorbing as an off-kilter character study. The main players Goodman and Winstead are both rounded quite well, but given the limited amount of space and story, which is kept purposefully and deceptively vague, it should come as no surprise that two excellent actors should thrive in such a claustrophobic environment, given a passable script, which this has, albeit with a few loose ends left dangling.

Direction in such confines is key and Trachtenberg should be applauded for developing a triumvirate of sorts, where the balance is constantly shifting, most notably from these two out of three characters. One appearing to hold all of the cards and one trying to steal his keys to a freedom that incredulity has convinced them is allegedly more than what is promised.

Goodman has already been lauded by many for his own performance and it is easy to agree. His portrayal of Howard, a matter-of-factly bull of a man who built his own emergency shelter in order to be prepared for anything is anything but happy about his achievement when terror does actually come to town. The plot says more, maybe, about the way we live today than we might like and Trachtenberg plays on this fact by repeatedly appearing to make Howard a monster, which may or may not be true, but the cynical viewer will no doubt have made their mind up, much like Winstead’s Michelle, before there is sufficient evidence to prove this theory either way.

In summary, this is intriguing, compelling and gripping stuff for the majority of its runtime, which is probably ten or twenty minutes shorter than I would have liked. If I hadn’t made it clear already, I found the conclusion to be a disappointment at least as voluminous as the credit I give it for the first eighty minutes. Why Trachtenberg decided to bolt-on what seems superfluous is something you’d have to ask him yourself, I guess. Thankfully, this is still worth the ending for the excellent first two acts that highlight both the acting skills of the limited cast (kudos to Gallagher who didn’t really get a look in, despite his efforts, as the heavyweights he was up against basically just mowed over him) and Trachtenberg’s eye for a frame. Not sure if I was building a shelter to live in for years on end with a potentially limited supply of everything, including electricity, that I would have chosen to install an energy sucking jukebox, however, even if it helped fatten up the soundtrack.

It left me open-mouthed just the once, but you’ll know what I mean if you see it.

     

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