Monsters Within & Without the Bunker: On "10 Cloverfield Lane," Which High-Fives "The Revenant," With a Nod to the Original "Cloverfield"

So I was amused by the original Cloverfield (2008), with its cool poster of the Statue of Liberty and tagline: Some Thing Has Found Us. It’s no great film or anything—kind of a Heineken ad spliced with (the film version of) Stephen King’s The Mist (2007)—but it gets major bonus points for misdirection and sleight-of-hand focus: For the first half hour or so, you think it’s just another somewhat-dopey “relationship” flick, the kind of breakup story where the male’s best friend says, “She’s too good for you, man!” then it isn’t. It takes place on party night in New York . . . cool and easy, until something starts to happen. They look out the windows, see skyscrapers on fire, mayhem erupting. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I’ll stop there, and just add that when the monsters arrive, they’re pretty wicked. And it follows the breakup story throughout, keeping that cinema verite/handheld video cam silliness going the whole time, and pulls off an odd mixture of relationship/disaster/alien invasion trifecta, reminiscent of one of my favorite horror fiction writers, Stephen Graham Jones, who has a new novel coming out in May, published by William Morrow, btw, Mongrels.

Flash forward to March 2016, and along comes this new movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, which outdoes the original, but should most definitely be identified as not being a sequel. As they say in the land of Oz, “It’s a horse of a different color.” Again I’d hedge my praise with “It’s no great movie,” but greatness should be a pretty high bar to clear, and I’ll add it’s way wicked fun. I expect I’ll be watching this one again and again on DirecTV. It also has a twisted tagline: Monsters come in many forms. The film’s main focus (and star) is Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who does a great job, and at times resembles a somewhat stressed-out Natalie Wood, followed by John Goodman as Howard, a great big bear of a man keeping her locked-up in his doomsday prepper bunker. Goodman makes the movie (and the role) come to life, lumbering around in his sloppy enormity, audibly breathing like a dragon with emphysema, and being just creepy and just kind enough to keep you guessing. John Gallagher as Emmett is probably the most likable character, and I was bummed when he departed the storyline.

Without giving too much away, I’ll say this is one that pulls off some clever slam-bang plot twists and turns, and gets visceral from the outset—a horrendous car crash scene that jolts you from the get-go. But then it lulls you to rest for a while, with its Fifties Oldies jukebox backing up a montage of them playing Monopoly and doing jigsaw puzzles, and then ramps up the tension once again. Late in the film there’s a moment that parallels The Revenant‘s over-the-topness, specifically when Leo DiCaprio spends the night in the dead horse, gets up in the morning, crawls out of the carcass, and walks away: When I saw that in the theater I quipped to my friend, “Another day at the office.” 10 Cloverfield Lane is actually more fun/less misery than The Revenant, though I suppose I’ll still give The Rev status as better film, if only because that grizzly bear attack scene rocks.

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