10 Cloverfield Lane

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***OBLIQUE SPOILERS.***

One heck of a chapalang movie.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a spiritual successor of sorts to the found-footage monster movie Cloverfield. Why it is touted as one is not quite clear to me. The putative reason –  the slogan about monsters coming in many forms – is somewhat tenuous.

The other link, which I think makes more sense, is in the ways in which both movies were marketed to the public. They focused on guerilla marketing and chose to conceal their subject matter in their promotional materials. Cloverfield, for example, never actually shows what the monster looks like, and the film itself, as I recall, only gives us a brief glimpse near the end. 10 Cloverfield Lane came in out of nowhere and was largely spread through internet, social media and word-of-mouth; its plot a secret beyond some vague intimations of it featuring some monsters.

In both cases, the deliberate lack of information disclosure created quite a bit of hype around the products. People went to watch the films because they were intrigued by the secrecy and wanted to find out what the big reveal was all about. Of course, the positive reviews helped. Both films rode the crest of positive testimonials from reviewers who told their readers that it was worth watching the films just for their reveals.

But it turns out that in the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, it really is a bit of a bait-and-switch. 10 Cloverfield Lane’s strength is its ability to subvert audience expectations through its eclectic mishmash of tropes from different genres – slasher horror, post-apocalyptic drama, sci-fi action with body horror elements. When it comes to the final signposted “reveal”, however, it feels almost like an M Night Shyamalan movie: a hackneyed, tacked-on addition that, unfortunately, lends an off flavor to the otherwise decently-crafted edifice.

10 Cloverfield Lane starts with a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who gets into a car accident. Upon awaking, she finds herself trapped a bunker built by the ex-Navy veteran Howard, a conspiracy nut and survivalist who tells her that everyone outside is dead from some sort of chemical or biological attack of unknown origin, and the only chance of survival is in his hermetically-sealed home. Here, the movie maintains a good balance in straddling the two possibilities – either it is a bona fide post-apocalyptic thriller, or a slasher scenario predicated on a madman’s paranoid fantasy.

All is well and good, and the film unfolds satisfyingly, until Michelle learns (or thinks she learns) the Truth Of Things, and engineers her departure from the house. It is after that that she then learns the Real Truth of Things. Sorry, it’s hard to describe these things obliquely. It is here that the film goes off the rails. In an abrupt tonal shift, the film shifts gears into reality-warping sf-action and turns Michelle into some sort of latter-day Ellen Ripley in the space of 20 minutes.

Now, I’m not in principle against such tonal shifts. I think their intention was to be audacious in capping off their genre mishmash with a dose of off-the-rails action: a final ingredient in their potpourri of tropes, and I’d be able to go with that if it had been executed with some degree of care. But in the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, however, the abruptness of that shift, as well as how lazily it appeared to have been written, makes it very difficult to take seriously, especially when compared to what came before. It does open the road to sequels, though. Given what happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if Michelle became the so-called monster of the third Cloverfield film. It would go with the mythology.

The necessity of talking about 10 Cloverfield Lane in filmic innuendoes blunts the essential point, which is whether one should feel obliged to watch it. Here I will tell you not to expect too much from the Reveal, but watch the film as an interesting experiment in audience subversion.

I give this film: 3 out of 5 missing jigsaw pieces

 

 

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