Thursday 24 March 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (US 2016: Dir Dan Trachtenberg)

All the way through 10 Cloverfield Lane I was attempting to establish links with the 2008 movie Cloverfield, albeit rather fruitlessly - doubtless detail hounds may disagree. In interview producer J.J. Abrams has mentioned that the only connection between the two is in the feel of both films and the subject matter - and the fact that both were launched on an unsuspecting public with very little commercial fanfare. The story doing the rounds of course is that there was no connection - 10CL was originally intended as a stand alone movie, but men in suits intervened to force a title change and a few other subtle amendments to link it with the original film, with a view to increased box office takings.

However now that the original surprise of the film's announcement and teaser trailer has been replaced with the opportunity to see what the (brief) fuss was about, 10CL emerges as an ok movie which is interesting for most of its running time but misfires once the sci-fi shows itself.

Michelle is a young woman driving away from a failed relationship when her car is involved in an accident. She wakes up, injured but having received medical attention, in an underground facility, which we discover is beneath a Louisiana farm. She has apparently been rescued by Howard, a larger than life sinister figure who is keeping her isolated from the outside world following a supposed chemical outbreak. Also in the bunker is Emmett, who broke in when the event kicked off and has been allowed to stay. The three maintain an uneasy alliance, with Michelle making periodic attempts to escape, being unsure whether the outbreak has actually happened or whether she and Emmett have simply been drugged and imprisoned by the clearly less than balanced Howard.

For about two thirds of the film the drama centres on the three characters and their bunker existence. There's good acting from all involved, with a great script to work from, but the claustrophobia and tension of the situation has limited dramatic possibilities so it's left to the overbearing score and fidgety camera to convince us that this is something more than three people in a room having a bad time. As Howard, John Goodman is a past master of the grumpy blue collar worker, an actor who can do a lot with a single raised eyebrow (I always felt that his role as Dan Connor in Roseanne contained layers of suppressed violence) . Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr, as Michelle and Emmett, portray their frustrations convincingly, although Michelle's resourcefulness in a crisis suggests she was probably top of her Girl Guide class with a Lara Croft merit badge.

It's when the film leaves the bunker that it all falls apart, abandoning the is-the-threat-real-or-not scenario, which had fuelled a lot of the film's tension, in favour of some big CGI set pieces which gratingly change the pace of the film and aren't on screen long enough to make the adjustment from chamber piece to action movie.

Although we should congratulate Dan Trachtenberg in pulling off a watchable first movie, to what extent this assured if not fault free debut is largely attributable to him is questionable: with J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves as producer and executive producer respectively, and the assistance of co-scriptwriter Damien Chazelle (who also wrote the smart Whiplash a couple of years ago), it's more likely that this was a solid team effort, if not a particularly substantial one.

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