Saturday, 19 March 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane review

I decided to go and see the JJ Abrams produced 10 Cloverfield Lane earlier today! Hit the jump for my SPOILER FREE review!
This scene will screw you up....
I've never had to write a spoiler-free review before. Sure, I make a conscious effort not to ruin the movie; but I don't think I've ever reviewed a movie (maybe The Gift?) that's had as much marketing heft behind 'not giving away the secrets' as this one. It not only recalls the original Cloverfield and its mysterious trailers, but also the essay worthy marketing campaign for Psycho. Much to my surprise, therefore, when a second trailer was released a few weeks ago along with another poster. Not the one I include above. I'm warning you now: DON'T LOOK AT THE POSTER AND DON'T WATCH THE TRAILER. They give the game away - not quite 100%, but beyond reasonable doubt. Don't look up this film on the internet or social media either - because much discussion over the ending is underway - and you may get caught up reading something you don't want to. This review will have some very minor spoilers - but I won't reveal any plot twists/hidden information. With all that said, onto the review:

Cloverfield has a special place in my heart. Weird, right? Well, I must have been 11/12 years old max. Maybe younger. And my local Shelter Charity shop sold me the DVD (which was rated 15). So yeah, it was my first 15 rated DVD. And my first horror DVD. And the first 'grown up' movie I'd watch with my dad. The amount of times we watched that movie.... Recently I watched around half of it with some friends, and it didn't have the full heft that I remember - but it's great nonetheless. I may add that the brand name is not the reason I decided to see this film. Nor is JJ Abrams - whose work I have rarely adored (yet often enjoyed). The trailer entertained me, but overall left an underwhelming feeling; and the 12A/pg-13 rating really forced me away from it. My hate of those kinds of toned down blockbusters is well known.

Oh, the tension....
Instead, the phenomenal reviews got me interested. Well, not phenomenal, but excellent enough to pique my interest. The 'twilight zone' vibes that were repeatedly mentioned certainly drove me to an urge to view it. In a shock twist, I decided to drag along a 7 year old, who wanted to see Zootopia, with me.

The film begins with some nice shots, showcasing the strengths of cinematographer Jeff Cutter - a night-shot of a petrol station brought particular chills, as did some incredible Kubrick road overheads. The situation are clear: Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is leaving her boyfriend, for currently unknown (but mostly not story-crucial reasons). As you probably know from the trailer or plot synopsis, she's heading for a particularly grizzly car crash. And it's masterfully done. Throughout the 3-4 minute Hitchcockian driving scene (which feels much longer), I was expecting a sudden crash with all the glances down at the phone, and distractions from the road. The suspense was killing me! Eventually, when it comes, it's loud, noisy, and brutal; with the credits appearing on black with complete silence between the bursts of carnage. That kind of visual and sonic inventiveness is what signifies a uniquely excellent cinema experience. That alone should set the tone for 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Get ready to be terrified....
Michelle awakes, chained to a bed. Before long, Howard (played by a career best performance from John Goodman) appears and tells her the unthinkable: a disastrous attack has destroyed the world, and he has saved her from certain death. Currently, they are below ground in a nuclear doomsday bunker. Yeah, nice try....  Several escape attempts later, Michelle meets the slightly dopey Emmett - also 'saved' by Howard - but in different circumstances.... together, they begin to unravel the mysteries of their situation.

This premise is enough to sustain a film. The close up shots of Goodman's fists clenching, and the contrapuntal cheery soundtrack expertly generate tension - first time director Dan Trachtenberg isn't afraid to chuck in some pretty brutal jumpscares as well while he's at it. My 7 year old sis handled it better than I thought she would... There's a savage  humor to the proceedings; as in, full on (black) comedy to a laugh out loud level. Often coming from facial expressions, or a ridiculously sinister game of Taboo, I was surprised by the level of comedy one can feel with fear. But it's pitch dark in tone, totally inappropriate for a 7 year old. We're guessing all the time whether Goodman is right or not, with the view that this will be the crux of the film. But it's not. The pace builds to a breakneck climax around an hour in - where a detail is revealed that heavily hints at whether the world is destroyed or not, and then the film settles back down again into a straight story.

Sinister indeed....
I began to wonder where it was going. I confess, I almost lost my faith in the film: an incredibly tense half film led into an entertaining, but confusing, 20 minutes - where i had no clue whatsoever about where it was going to head. And then something terrible is discovered. Something so terrible, that I began to doubt my choice to take a 7 year old to this film. Truly bone chilling. 10 Cloverfield Lane then becomes pulpy storytelling at it's best: Dark, savage, and tense as hell!   From here the film is just a downwards spiral, building in darkness, fear, and shock; until a climax that had me breaking out in a cold sweat. Violent, horrific, and terrifying - John Goodman is the monster here. And then Michelle emerges from the bunker....

Lets just say that the ending is fantastic and unpredictable... but that my young companion totally lost it on the fear factor, hugging into me as twist after twist after twist flew onto the screen. It's not kiddy material... trust me, this film could become the Poltergeist of this decade in terms of child traumatisation. And get ready for the most perfectly timed 'fuck' in the history of cinema....

Cannibal Airlines...... yep
So the story is excellent, and it's a wonderfully tense, pulpy ride. But there's a lot else to comment on and praise. The cinematography is consistently excellent; playing on that aesthetic sense of Kubrickian symmetry that we all love so much. The restrained palette of bunker colors wonderfully complements the stripped back, bad to the bone nasty storyline. Once out of the bunker, the use of more expansive and complex shots reveals some of the greatest lighting and production design I've seen in a long time, as well as a satisfying emergence of wide-angle after the claustrophobic prior shots. Speaking of which, why was this film made in IMAX? Is that a mere cash-grab? I don't see how IMAX would improve it whatsoever - except that all modern blockbusters seem to be using it these days (oh well). In the shelter, the use of some incredible props (the VHS of 'Cannibal Airlines' being a firm comedic favourite of mine). The soundtrack is a wonderful combination of throwback horror violin/synth compilation, and 1970s/80s tunes played from a retro jukebox. It's just another aesthetic perfection to an amazing film.

The way it's directed adds a unique direction to mainstream movie making. For instance, almost every item talked about, or conversation topic is incredibly relevant to the story. Shower curtains, books, and anecdotes are all lingered on by the lens or discussed by characters; and they all lead to story elements. So keep in mind every shot, because each frame is perfectly adjusted to the plot!

What's she just seen? You'll need to see it to find out!
And the acting, oh the acting. John Goodman plays the craziest, most deranged, crazy psycho with such incredible zeal and skill. Jumping from the 'friendly fat guy' to the stuff of nightmares, he actually deserves an awards nomination he's just so brilliant. And the other two do a great job as well; turning 10 Cloverfield Lane into the kind of feminist actioner that brought Mad max into the critical sunlight last May.

So I suppose I either have to give 10 Cloverfield Lane 5 stars, or find a fault... unfortunately I'm going to find a fault. There's just a little missing in that 20 minute calm sequence, a little too many cheap jumpscares, and a little too much incoherency in the finale... One more thing. It feels as if the source material (it was a film called The Cellar) has been shoehorned into the cloverfield brand a little too forcefully, but that doesn't detract from what is an amazing film. I could go through the few links I found, but I think they're probably spoilers for parts of the film, so I wont bother. But don't go expecting a monster movie! If you want to see an incredible blockbuster: a white knuckle ride into darkness bolstered by an incredible cast. And if you are brave enough to seek this slightly leftfield gem, I urge you to go out and buy a ticket to 10 Cloverfield Lane now! it's pulpy, it's funny, it's violent, and it's shocking, but it's also an utterly amazing experience. Pretty much as perfect as mainstream big budget filmmaking gets.

10 Cloverfield Lane gets 4 stars!

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