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Film in Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

If I recall correctly, the first movie in what is now the Cloverfield series (which shares that title) was an exuberant spin on classic giant monster tales and found footage genre – two things that have been done (and perhaps beaten) to death. I remember flyers at theaters, warning moviegoers that the movie might cause disorientation or worse. Now, in the early days of virtual reality as a storytelling medium, this makes me smile widely and laugh loudly. Up close in a VR headset, Cloverfield WOULD’VE BEEN truly disorienting. Action packed, dramatic and traumatic it was, but more pulse pounding than anything. Never was I worried about my actual health. Interestingly, its on-the-ground story is tailor-made for VR, while the scope, shakiness and confounding context of the visuals are better fit for an actual theater screen. Though, one does wonder about the missed richness within the frames that VR could potentially capture.

 

Roughly a decade later, we return to the familiar name with 10 Cloverfield Lane – more anti-sequel or alternate dimensional than follow up or shared universe respectively. Like its predecessor, it too is pretty well grounded to Earth, probably more so, with quite the confined and personal feel. The first (with the monster) was within a tight corner of the world, bursting and suddenly thrust into a larger escapade. 10 starts small, stays small and most importantly, feels big. Small in its environment and closeness to characters, big in its implications and danger.

This is the kind of movie the descriptor “Hitchcockian” is saved for. Famed auteur Alfred Hitchcock was known for his cleverness and ability to build chilling suspense. Some of his work was deep with wonderful subtext, some just playful exercises in genre. But they were never boring. 10 Cloverfield Lane fits in those elements expertly, crafting something truly surprising, especially since we only learned of the film a month or so before release. It’s a mystery of the “what’s happening?” and “what’s lurking?” variety. It’s a tense nail biter where you don’t know when the next shoe is gonna drop. It’s a horror where the outside threat is no match for the inside one. It’s also one of the better made Hollywood South shot and set movies.

That giant NYC destroying monster? No contest for the survivalist Howard, played by the monstrously powerful and dangerously spontaneous performance of John Goodman. He’s “good” in just about anything, but here he gets the opportunity to chew up a bunker with some ferociously attentive and aggressive behavior. The movie, also presented in IMAX like the one before it, reveals Cloverfield the first as a popcorn fest of a motion picture. 10, thanks to Goodman and lead actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, has a steady pace and an ongoing atmosphere of possible doom ahead. It goes above and beyond the call of simple entertainment. Don’t get confused: what’s happening under the surface isn’t necessarily shining a light on current events or a niche group of society. No, the subtext at play is of the moment, plotting for the next moment and those after. It’s at the service of understanding who we’re watching and what could possibly happen to them.

Hitchcockian, absolutely. Almost a filmmaking 101 kind of movie. 10 Cloverfield Lane not only outdoes Cloverfield as a highly tense creature feature, it would also work better as a VR experience, showing that bigger doesn’t mean denser. And denser doesn’t have to mean pretentious or overhead intellectual. Density isn’t trapped up in the arthouse; it can be found elsewhere, even right in front of our faces. Especially in front of our faces. After all, danger is around every corner, and horror could be living next door.

 

5 / 5 *s

 

For more from the author, follow him on Twitter @BillReviews and patreon.com/billreviews

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