“10 Cloverfield Lane”: solid thriller with a ruinous ending

10c_1-sht_online_teaser_altGrade: B

Verdict: Can we vote JJ off the island yet? “Cloverfield”’s spiritual sibling is a tight thriller diminished by lame-brain Abrams influence.


No matter how much the title wants you to believe it, “10 Cloverfield Lane” isn’t really a sequel to “Cloverfield,” which is Matt Reeves’ found footage alien invasion flick. It’s a self-proclaimed spiritual successor, according to Entertainment Weekly, related by feeling rather than plot. The few things they have in common boil down to one biggie: JJ Abrams and his propensity to smear his particular brand of lame onto whatever he touches.

To all my JJ mega fans out there: you’ll love this movie, but maybe not this review. Proceed with caution.

Most of “10 Cloverfield” is taut psychological thriller. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up after a car accident inside a subterranean bunker, brought there by Howard (John Goodman), her maybe captor or maybe savior depending on whether you buy his story: something’s happened outside–a nuke or chemical attack or alien invasion– that has killed everyone and made the air unbreathable. He happens to own a bunker capable of withstanding just such an event and is generously allowing her and his neighbor Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) to take shelter there for two or so years until the air clears.

So goes his story, anyway, and it’s hard to totally ignore him. The pacing relies on a steady stream of conflicting information which it offers generously, something new every scene, before it becomes clear that the baddies outside might be the lesser of two evils.

Winstead gives a superb performance as Michelle, resourceful and clever but restricted by lack of intel. She and Goodman carry the film, he’s unreadable, she’s tiptoeing around him, trying to figure out the stakes.

All this happens in the bunker, the setting for most of the film, and the claustrophobia adds to the unease. It’s the directorial debut for Dan Trachtenberg, and it’s a pretty good first effort for a guy whose primary work has been commercials and internet programming (“The Totally Rad Show”). Apart from some hinky emotional moments, he pulls off a single-setting thriller that’s often genuinely discomfiting.

Everything I’ve said so far only applies to the first two thirds. As far as Hollywood movies go it’s original, with its small cast, setting, and emphasis on slow moving psychological tension. Until the final act, that is, which is its own entity, an un-thrilling addition that feels slapped on by the ever disappointing JJ Abrams.

The guy’s a lamo. His obsession with mystery masks a lack of imagination, that’s disturbing considering he keeps getting handed major sci-fi projects that require some originality and grace. And yes, that includes “The Force Awakens.” I went into “10 Cloverfield” knowing he produced it, but my concerns were numbed by the pleasantly traumatic first two acts. Suffice it to say the last half hour, greased as it was with slimey JJ discharge, put a damper on my happiness.

Not enough to ruin the movie for me, though. A half hour of JJ drivel I can handle, especially when the rest of it was so compelling. I left the theater excited by the good stuff I’d seen, and so long as this “spiritual sequel” idea sticks around I’d welcome another excitingly original “Cloverfield” reboot.


1 Comment

  1. I loved the ending. No idea why some people think other wise. I understand The first hour and a half is a completely different movie from the last 15 minutes but who cares? When I came out of the theater everyone was talking about how they didn’t expect the ending, and that is what it was about.

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