July 4, 2018

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Grade: 53/100

Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

What it's about. Brunette hottie Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is travelling alone, and has a car accident on the highway. She wakes up with a leg injury in an underground bunker, which she shares with Howard (John Goodman), a controlling and threatening middle-aged man, and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), an agreeable young man.

Howard claims there has been an alien invasion, that the outside environment is poisoned, and that the three must live in the shelter indefinitely to survive. Michelle concludes he is nuts and tries to escape, only to find strong evidence that Howard is correct: a diseased woman on the outside trying (in vain) to enter the shelter.

Now aware that Howard is at least partly correct, Michelle settles in with the two men, and time passes. But Howard's unsettling behavior, and possible past abduction and murder of a woman named Brittany, causes Michelle to create a hazmat suit that might allow her to survive in the outside world, and she plots her escape.

10 Cloverfield Lane has little to do with Cloverfield (2008), apart from its theme of alien invasion. A third film in the franchise, The Cloverfield Paradox, was released earlier this year.

How others will see it. As with Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane was a box office success. The movie was ignored by the Oscars and Golden Globes, but genre festivals embraced it. At the Saturn Awards, it won Best Thriller, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor (Goodman).

Today at imdb.com, the movie has a lofty 240K user votes, and a respectable 7.2 (out of 10) user rating. The user rating does decline modestly with advancing age, from 7.4 under age 30 to 7.1 over age 30. Foreign voters grade it slightly lower than U.S. voters.

The user reviews, though, show that many viewers were annoyed by the film's final reel turn from a version of Misery (1990) into a movie short of Michelle vs. the aliens.

How I felt about it. I also discount the curious ending, and my grade for the movie is mostly for the bunker scenes that dominate the film. As such, it is an interesting drama. We expect the worst from creepy Howard, and eventually he delivers.

Again, the movie is much more like Misery than Cloverfield, and that is a good thing. The viewer identifies closely with Michelle, an intelligent and determined woman whose comely presence will please many male viewers. Goodman, cast against type as a malevolent paternal figure, provides star power and acting chops.

But it is difficult for a movie to be good, and 10 Cloverfield Lane is instead merely interesting, at least until its bizarre ending designed to increase the film's audience. It is clear that Michelle and Emmett would be wise to placate the mercurial Howard indefinitely, given his knowledge of the bunker, and as a fair return for his saving their lives.

But most movies contain at least some elements of false drama, and so it is with 10 Cloverfield Lane. Howard is unstable, or else he would have never built the bunker in the first place. But Michelle can (and would) play the Good Girl until visits to the outside world become tenable.