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Posts Tagged ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’

As I have occasionally observed in the past, it can be difficult to attract publicity to a new film production – crowded marketplace, short attention span, audience fatigue, and so on – especially if your project doesn’t immediately connect with an established interest group and doesn’t feature big-name stars. There are various ways round this, especially if your film has a decent gimmick or some interesting quirk involved in its production. The people at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company seem to have hit on a particularly interesting and clever way of advertising their film, which is to keep the fact that they were making a film at all completely secret. Keeping up a steady drip-drip-drip of information about a project is pretty much standard procedure these days, especially for a genre sequel, so when the release of a trailer for Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane was actually the first sign of its existence as far as most people were concerned, there was a bit of a kerfuffle.

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Does the film live up to the non-hype? Well. Mary Elizabeth Winsome, who I would venture to suggest is not on the big screen enough, plays Michelle, who as the film starts is making a hurried departure from her home, as an orchestra gets all ominous in the background. Shortly afterwards her car is involved in an accident, and she wakes up in a cellar, chained to the wall.

It turns out she is in the personal underground bunker of Howard (John Goodman), an ex-military survivalist. Howard informs her that the USA has come under attack from unknown forces and that the air outside is contaminated and deadly. She will have to stay in the bunker with him for a year or two until things clear up, and until then, there are to be no attempts to escape or contact the outside world – this applies both to her and the third inhabitant of their little world, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr). Michelle takes this news about as well as could be expected, in the circumstances, and it’s only a short while before she finds herself wondering – if Howard is telling the truth and Very Bad Things are happening up top, why can she still occasionally hear the sound of cars going by…?

In terms of attracting interest to a very low budget genre movie, the no-publicity publicity approach is quite a novel idea. Less original is the way this film has been widely linked with the 2008 film Cloverfield, Matt Reeves’ curious found-footage kaiju movie. There are no character or plot elements in common between the two films; it’s very, very late in proceedings before the significance (such as it is) of the title becomes apparent, and to be honest it’s an extremely tenuous connection. Claiming that Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane constitute a series is a bit like doing the same for Wolf and The Wolf of Wall Street, or Moon and Moonraker.

However, all this just seems to be a tactic to get people into theatres to watch the movie, and I’m inclined to grant them some latitude because the movie is mostly rather good. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is always watchable, and to be honest it’s great to see John Goodman in a proper leading role that doesn’t require him to play a film producer of some kind. Goodman gets the best role, of course, and really shows his considerable abilities as a straight actor – Howard is a memorable combination of looming menace and slightly prissy control-freak, and Goodman keeps you guessing almost to the end – is Howard mad or not? And, not quite the same thing – is he telling the truth or not?

It’s practically become a trope of a particular kind of fem jeop story that, when an attractive young woman ends up down a bomb shelter with a man, who then tells her that the world has ended and they’ll have to stay there together for years, it’s a virtual certainty that his motives are not entirely pure and he may not be telling her the whole truth. The writers of 10 Cloverfield Lane seem to be fully aware of this and cheerfully play with audience expectations. Naturally, fake-critic etiquette prevents me from saying too much about what their game actually is, but this is a film with a clever script, solidly structured, which does a good job of telling you in advance some of what’s going to happen without you actually noticing it.

However, in the end the film-makers have to show you their cards, and it’s only near the very end of the film that it sort of stumbles. Once again, I wouldn’t dream of talking about the ending in too much detail, but there’s a definite change of gear and approach, and not necessarily for the better. On the other hand, I’m not sure what I would have done differently to conclude the film. As it is, the ending is by far the weakest part of the film, not least because it feels especially generic and derivative and not really of a piece with the rest – for this kind of twist to work it has to be a surprise, but not so big a surprise that it feels ridiculous. This may be a case of trying to square the circle.

Still, this isn’t the first modest little genre movie to stumble in the closing stages as a result of its own ambitions, and the rest of 10 Cloverfield Lane is good enough to make it well worth watching: there are strong performances from the cast, and it’s actually quite refreshing to watch a genre film that derives tension and drama simply from people sitting in a room together, without feeling the need to constantly spray CGI all over the screen. A flawed film, certainly, but still one with a lot to commend it.

 

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