By James Hancock March 12th, 2016
At the risk of incurring the wrath of the internet, I have to do my part to pop the bubble of enthusiasm that has been forming around 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film that a lot of people seem to have talked themselves into liking long before seeing the actual movie. Like everyone else, I thought the trailer to this film was outstanding, one that had just enough mystery and menace to excite my interest without giving anything away. When director Dan Trachtenberg announced that the film was a spiritual sequel to Cloverfield (2008), his statement only took my excitement to new highs wondering what that might entail. Having now seen the movie, I can sum up my reaction in a only a few words: great premise, decent film, terrible ending. What both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane do really well is tease the audience with just enough information about an otherwordly threat to send the imagination of the viewer into overdrive filling in the gaps of what we don’t know. It is a great narrative trick that goes way back to the cyclopean horrors vaguely described by H.P. Lovecraft in his short stories. But while Cloverfield ended with a massive climax and payoff that made me want to see more of this world, 10 Cloverfield Lane does the exact opposite with an ending so ridiculously disappointing that I have lost all interest in revisiting this world ever again. Most great sci-fi films are incredibly rewarding upon multiple viewing with new insights and details to be savored each time, but in the case of this movie, the magician foolishly reveals his bag of tricks in such a way that there would be absolutely nothing gained from a second viewing. My prediction is that after this weekend, 10 Cloverfield Lane will gradually come to be dismissed as a very successful gimmick that falls apart upon closer examination.
To give credit where credit is due, Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a phenomenal job and carries the story with ease. I’ve been a massive fan of Winstead ever since seeing her in films like Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007) and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010). She absolutely deserves to be a far bigger star. The movie works best as we experience her predicament through her eyes when she wakes up trapped in a bunker with two strangers only to be told that the rest of the world is dead or dying due to a threat beyond her comprehension. While I found much of the dialogue to be cringe-inducing and John Gallagher Jr’s country boy accent to be ridiculous, the first two thirds of the film work pretty well. John Goodman is menacing as hell, but just enough of his conspiratorial claims seem to be true that we’re not quite sure if Winstead is better off or not in his care or fending for herself on the surface. The mystery works and I found my imagination running wild thinking about what horrors lurked on the surface.
The climax the film should have had takes place about twenty minutes before the movie ends with Winstead confronting Goodman and breaking free. At that point, Winstead comes face to face with an alien invasion that makes Independence Day (1996) feel like a masterpiece of depth and subtlety by comparison. Not only does Winstead’s casual emotional reaction to the aliens completely diminish the threat, her ability singlehandedly to take down an entire ship will leave even the most forgiving viewer rolling their eyes with disgust. As she drives away victorious, she stops at a road sign where she picks up an AM radio station stating that people in need of help should go to Baton Rouge but that warriors are needed in Houston. Like some cheap Sarah Connor rip off, she resolutely drives off toward Houston where presumably she’ll dispatch with the rest of the invaders as casually as she did an entire ship about five minutes earlier. Just writing about the ending is making me hate the movie even more so I’m going to wrap this up. I’m glad so many people are having a good time at the movies this weekend, and I hate being so out of step with my fellow freaks and geeks, but in my opinion this is a classic proverbial situation where the emperor has no clothes.
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