10 Cloverfield Lane: A twisted and claustrophobic paranoia thrill ride

There is a point a little over halfway into the second entry in the Cloverfield saga where a character is attempting to pass time putting a jigsaw puzzle together and he comments on how the puzzle is missing pieces. Earlier in the accompanying montage, he is shown attempting to jam a puzzle piece into place that obviously doesn’t fit.


This is a rather perfect analogy for describing the impression left after viewing 10 Cloverfield Lane.


The film conveys a lot in its stay, mostly considering the repercussions of ultra-conservative paranoia and the personal sacrifices required to transcend meager humanity to attain apocalyptic warrior status, Mad Max style. But before we get to that, we must discuss the actual content of the film, pre-analysis.


So, what does the film concern itself with, aside from what I stated above? Well, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recovering from a toxic relationship with Bradley Cooper’s voice and is run off the road after she flees her apartment somewhere in a cityscape. She is rescued by a paranoid bunker dweller named Howard (John Goodman). He claims there was an “attack” and he has assembled a modest amount of supplies to survive in the aftermath of whatever happened above. Believing the air to be contaminated, he has allowed only two others into his bunker, Michelle and down-to-earth redneck, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.).


At first, Howard takes some steps to chain up Michelle so she apparently won’t leave the bunker, but it also may have been to prevent her from exacerbating her leg injury she received in the accompanying car crash. She eventually is let on a looser leash, proverbially, but the doubt in her and our minds never quite alleviates until the film’s questionable conclusion.


The film has a lot of slowly unspooling tension from the moment we and Michelle arrive in Howard’s bunker. Howard is not a completely benevolent host, as he showcases several antisocial tics and nervous anxieties that bring his handle on his issues into question. He slams his hands on the dinner table in impotent frustration at how easily Michelle and Emmett get along while Howard is left to himself and his hordes of videocassettes and DVDs.


Eventually, Michelle comes to understand that Howard may not be entirely crazy but that doesn’t help that she is still trapped in a bunker with a man whose grip on his emotions is tenuous at best. There’s a magnificent game of Taboo played in the latter half of the film that turns the simple game of charades into a terrifying marathon of second-guessing suspense, which I won’t spoil here.


To come completely clean without spoilers, the movie does satisfy on many levels. It is thrilling, it has compelling and relatable characters, the film looks and feels pent-up like the characters and setting, and there aren’t any overblown, ridiculous elements that remove audiences from the viewing experience, outside of the questionable choices made in the last 15 minutes. But if one does wish to discuss the implications and revelations in the later stages of the film, they are free to strike up a conversation with me on social media or just see the movie and make decisions for yourself.


Executive producer J.J. Abrams’ never-sated lust for movies that spring themselves on unsuspecting audiences only to land with a dull thud and leaving audiences bewildered for the wrong reasons is a terrible habit of his that he should really get to moving past. Star Trek – Into Darkness suffered from the same unsurprising ‘Mystery Box’ marketing that succeeded so well with the likes of LOST came back to bite after fans of Star Trek came out in vehement opposition to what they saw as a lack of understanding of what made Original Series Trek interesting and entertaining. In that case, Abrams has come out and admitted that he is not a ‘trekkie’ per se, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of research on his part.


10cl_posterAs for Cloverfield, the first film came and went with some impact on audiences, but it should be noted that a sequel was never fast-tracked until production on a little film code-named Valencia was acquired by Abrams’ Bad Robot productions. As soon as that happened, J.J. Abrams assigned a new writer to polish some connections to the 2008 movie and dropped a trailer on the unsuspecting public just after the New Year. The results did prove that people were very curious about the contents. And the box office returns did reflect that curiosity, as 10 Cloverfield Lane took in over $50 million in its first two weekends at the multiplex.


10 Cloverfield Lane is a curious little experiment of sorts for short-term marketing and release planning. The film is quite excellent as a thriller and worth seeing in the theater before Batman v Superman comes in and wrecks its staying power. It could be a lot worse. But once the last 15 minutes happens, then Abrams’ intent becomes obvious and audiences scratch their heads in regards to how the ill-fitting pieces actually resemble the puzzle they feel they should have solved by now.