"Problem solving always puts me in a musical mood."
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is no CLOVERFIELD sequel, but perhaps a distant relative, like a second cousin you see every few years at a family reunion. Expectations are a funny thing. Too high and the result may disappoint; too low and maybe you leave in a better mood. You hear the word, "Cloverfield" and you immediately get pulled back to J.J. Abrams, and the Matt Reeves's 2008 found-footage film that originated it. While the two films share a name, they couldn't be more dissimilar.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Michelle. She's first seen in her apartment, frantically packing up. She leaves hurriedly, an engagement ring deserted on the table. Now in her car, the radio plays, a voice tells us of a power outage on the southern seaport. She gets a call from her fiancé, Ben. He talks, she listens. The relationship fleets in story and that's a wise choice. This connection makes Michelle more sympathetic, but never strays to remove us from what's significant. In truth, Michelle's backstory is entirely inconsequential. The narrative takes shape when her mettle is tested. It doesn't take long. My favorite trait of Michelle's is her undaunted resolve. There's not much arc in regards to her character, and that's not a bad thing. She is a woman of strength and conviction from the onset. When things are metaphorically thrown at her, she hurls them back with increased ire and velocity.
It's unknown where Michelle is headed, but she never makes her destination. Her car is run off the road in devastating fashion; she wakes up in a concrete room, IV in her arm, her leg padlocked to the wall. Then John Goodman walks into the room, and the film just explodes. It's possible I'm a prisoner of the moment, but it's also arguable that John Goodman hasn't been better than he is here. He is absolutely terrifying. His movements are itchy, and his intentions are never truly known. He informs Michelle that he saved her life, bringing her down to his bunker to protect her from whatever happened on the outside. That's where LANE gets ambiguous. Howard (Goodman) informs us that an attack has happened, be it chemical, nuclear, or alien. His delivery is unbalanced, however, and it's difficult to trust anything he says. Michelle hears noises above her quarters, only compounding the disbelief. But the thing is, Howard's correct! After a feeble attempt to escape to the outside, Michelle watches Howard's neighbor outside the bunker, banging on the blast door, her face covered in boils. Something has happened, but what? LANE remains debatable whether it's worse outside or inside the bunker.
A little bit more on Goodman. He's so damn lovable that it's still alarming to see him in such an intimidating role. He fluctuates between credible and psychotic so flawlessly. Howard and Michelle share the most screen time together. His backstory is touched upon briefly. He had a daughter, Megan, who died years ago. He sees her in Michelle, the reasoning why he saved her life. More information is shared by Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the third member of the bunker crew. He spends the entire film with his arm in a sling, apparently injuring it after breaking into the fortified home. He helped Howard build it; he vouches for him when Michelle has doubts. I suppose Emmett provides the comic relief to the film, but in truth his presence provides more comfort than entertainment to Michelle. For a while, the three form an odd nuclear family. They make breakfast, play music on the jukebox, play boardgames and complete jigsaw puzzles. The enjoyment doesn't last long. That's what makes LANE so delightful; it switches gears so quickly and efficiently, you never have a grasp of what's going on until the end.
LANE is produced by Abrams's Bad Robot company, and with that comes the use of what's known in his circles as the "mystery box." It's basically a silly name to keep things close to the vest so to speak; a way to keep spoilers at bay and to lead people away from what's to happen. When it fails, it does so miserably, like the blatantly obvious reveal of Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan in STAR TREAK INTO DARKNESS. LANE's release came out of nowhere; the first details, then trailer, then finally the actual release all were within a matter of months, a complete anomaly in today's social media blitzed world. When you actually see the word, "Cloverfield," in the film, it's a true "gotcha" moment. Abrams and his team must have shared a good laugh.
Of course, Abrams himself didn't direct LANE. (It's a common misconception that all works associated with Abrams are directed by the man. CLOVERFIELD is one; the biggest could be television's LOST, where granted Abrams did direct the two-hour pilot and was technically co-creator, though he had almost zero involvement past the first season of a six season show.) Dan Trachtenberg is the man behind the camera. His sole previous work was a short film based on the video game, Portal. He executes his feature-length debut phenomenally. LANE takes place in a such a small area, but Trachtenberg expands it so well, you never feel bored or claustrophobic even though 95% of the film is subterranean. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a fun experience. It's a tense, taut thriller with standout performances across board. Don't be fooled by the marketing, and don't judge a book by it's cover. As always, what's important is what's inside, or in this case, underground.