Some month’s back I reviewed M. Night Shyamalan’s latest low budget movie The Visit, a pretty good example that less can be more in a movie. It wasn’t particularly hard to figure out, but it was still well done, creepy and plausible. The secret to a good horror movie is to make it something that you can relate to.
Last night we went to see 10 Cloverfield Lane and I can happily report that unlike most movies in this genre, it totally creeped me out. It creeped me out so much that I dreamed about it most of the night, naturally in morphed situations where I was in a similar role. It couldn’t have cost that much more than The Visit for except for some special effects in the last ten minutes it all takes place in a small bunker. And whereas The Visit had a cast of four, this effectively has a cast of three, unless you count John Goodman as Howard, whose immense bulk is hard to ignore. Maybe he counts as two. For the kids in The Visit, getting away from the grandparents is not too hard: just run away. For poor Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) there really is no escape. That’s the key here in this horror movie: the characters are put into a box from which it’s virtually impossible to come out alive.
And that’s because Armageddon has arrived. Emmett spent months helping the obsessed Howard build a survival shelter on his property. Howard may be sixty-something and massively overweight but at least he can sense when the end is near and he was prepared. The cause of Armageddon is unclear: was it nuclear war or some sort of massive chemical attack? Was it the Russians, the North Koreans or space aliens? As the youthful Emmett relates it (he managed to fight his way into Howard’s shelter) whatever it was, it sure was bad, but it was worth the broken arm to simply have the chance to survive. To the college-age Michelle, she had no idea Armageddon had even arrived. She got into a terrible car accident and found herself a dozen or more feet underground in Howard’s bunker, chained to a wall in a cinder block room with lacerations on her head and a brace on her leg. Needless to say she is terrified and she is dubious that the paranoid Howard is telling the truth about the outside, particularly when she occasionally feels the grounds shake and she hears loud noises above them.
John Goodman proves himself a hell of an actor and veers between weird, plausibly honorable, humorous, self-deprecating and homicidal. Whatever may be happening when the ground shakes, it is clear that Howard has plenty of issues and will rock their inner world. Given his size and that he has all the keys and a gun, it behooves Michelle and Emmett to be nice to him. There’s not much space in the shelter and even if Howard weren’t so strange it’s hard to share close quarters and not get on each other’s nerves.
I can’t say too much more without giving away great portions of the plot. The important thing to understand is this is a hell of a great premise and even better it had a terrific director (Dan Trachtenberg) to do it justice. And yet it could not have cost much to make, because both Winstead and Gallagher are virtually no name actors. This leaves Goodman to chew the scenery, but not objectionably. And boy is he creepy and gets more so as this story enfolds. A trip to a chamber near the surface convinces Michelle that Howard is telling some variation of the truth, but also surfaces clues that Howard is one messed up and very violent man.
If M. Night Shyamalan sees the movie he’s no doubt pissed that he didn’t get to direct it, but I doubt he could do a better job. It bears some semblance to his 2002 movie Signs starring Mel Gibson. I won’t report if there are aliens in this movie like there were in Signs but Howard can stand in for any alien from another planet. How do you win in this unwinnable situation? How do you come out alive, particularly when Howard is paranoid and his beneficence is often fleeting?
10 Cloverfield Lane inhabits a slim genre of movies that I see. I see plenty of movies and many of them are superstarred and airbrushed to within an inch of their lives. 10 Cloverfield Lane should end leaving you feeling like you’ve seen a movie. A movie is not just a movie, it’s a movie that makes an impact, will resonate with you, which actually feels special and which you can’t possibly forget. If you aren’t too squicked out by horror and violence, it’s quite a tour de force on what must have been a very modest budget.In short, it’s terrific so go see it if you don’t have a weak stomach and skip the bloated Superman v. Batman flick. 3.4 out of four-points. It ends in a way that suggests a sequel is possible, and I’ll be first in line to see it.