10 Cloverfield Lane: Sadly Disappointing
Dir. Dan Trachenburg (2016)
A woman is kidnapped by a man who takes her to an underground bunker. She awakes to learn that the world above her has been destroyed, and her only hope of survival is to remain underground.
This is one that has been talked about for quite a while, and while I missed it in theaters, I was glad to get the chance to see it this week. I'm a huge fan of John Goodman, and his acting range is absolutely outstanding, so I couldn't wait to see what I was in store for. Unfortunately, I found the movie to be a little disappointing. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has just broken up with her boyfriend, and on her way out of town, she's sideswiped in her car and ends up gravely injured. She's rescued by Howard (John Goodman), who takes her to his underground bunker. When she awakes, believing herself to be kidnapped, she attacks Howard, only to learn that the world above them has been decimated by some kind of attack. She doubts the veracity at first, but after trying to escape and seeing a woman with horrible burns all over her skin trying to get inside, she retreats back to the safety of the interior of the bunker.
Most of the film takes place in the isolated bunker, creating a claustrophobic atmospheric horror film that was beautiful to watch. The direction and cinematography was gorgeous, and the acting was excellent. Goodman, Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr. (Emmett, the third resident of the bunker) were almost flawless, giving us a great look at what life in such circumstances would actually be like. There's no escape, and while the outside terrain might be inhospitable, the "captives" quickly learn that the inside isn't that much better. Howard is a conspiracy theorist doomsday prepper, paranoid to a fault. But when he shows Michelle his two pigs, who are penned up outside the bunker, and their horrible deaths, we learn that just because he's clearly crazy doesn't mean that he's necessarily wrong. He's got insane rules, and he expects them to be followed, but even at his most crazy, his points seem valid given the circumstances. He believes that he has saved their lives, and that his life is at stake if they break his rules. He's lost his family to his "insanity." and he doesn't intend to lose anything else. As he puts it, "Crazy is building an ark after the flood." And, again given the circumstances, is he wrong?
10 Cloverfield Lane, which takes place in the original Cloverfield's universe, but is not explicitly linked to the other film, is a great example of a film that was developed, plotted, and cast without a great ending. 90% (or so) of the film is flawless, with Goodman's portrayal of paranoia and Winstead and Gallagher, Jr.'s helplessness helping to drive the movie's slow-burn atmosphere. The set pieces are absolutely beautiful, and everyone involved does a fantastic job. But, here's the problem with all of this. J. J. Abrams, who owns the production company behind this film (Bad Robot), had a recent TED Talk wherein he discussed something he called "The Magical Mystery Box," a box of magic he bought at a magic store and never opened. You can go find the speech online if you'd like to watch it, but here's the basic gist: Storytelling is like having a box, and you don't know what's inside it. The box itself is "the catalyst for imagination... I started to think that maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge." What he's saying is, it's the desire to know what's inside the box that's important, not what's actually in the box. It's more important to build an interesting story and plot, one that the audiences want to see, than the ultimate culmination of the story. No, dude. No it's fucking not. You're a storyteller, not a magician. This is why LOST pissed so many people off, because you made a huge, convoluted storyline because you didn't know where the hell you were going with it. And, ultimately, it's the reason why this movie sucked in the end. You had everything there: you had the camerawork, the direction, the script, and acting (my god the acting, it was fantastic.) And then Winstead goes outside and sees aliens. Just, aliens. She fights them with a molotov cocktail, and then, instead of running to safety, runs to fight some more. All of this buildup to a huge letdown of easy bullshit. It would've been better if she had walked outside and seen a coroner taking away the dying woman, saying that she had bird flu or something, and that everything else was ok. But aliens?
J. J. Abrams at the Production Meeting
Abrams, stop being lazy. I've got a great idea for your next movie (and I know you didn't direct this one, but you produced it, and all of your stuff is related.) Why don't you start at the ending next time. Once that's satisfactory, think of a cool, kickass way to get the characters there. I read all of these reviews for your film, and it was all like "Oh, the acting was great and the atmospher was great, so it didn't matter that warbgarbleagrable..." Fuck that. It DOES matter. You don't just get to cram some shit into the ending because you had all of the other pieces in place. If anything, that should make the ending more important. If you could've given us a better ending, this film could've been a classic. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of literally everyone else involved but the writers, it won't be. Bottom Line: It's a great movie, wonderfully acted, and a modern classic. For an hour and a half of its 1 hour, 44 minute runtime. Watch it, it's worth a watch, but I haven't seen a movie that I've been this disappointed in the ending since The Village, and that's saying something. 2 out of 5 stars.