10 Cloverfield Lane online movie review - A Confident feature-debut; Trachtenberg understands Misdirection as a firm tenet for visual horror...
At the beginning of the movie, our heroine gets involved in a CGI car crash. Those are bad for the makeup. She could have avoided this, but see, she was listening to this guy, Caller ID Ben.
He exposits to her how "they've had a fight, and couples fight." Yeah Ben, teach her stuff. Because he's giving the worst voice performance since Ahmed Best (Binks J. J.), despite being Bradley Cooper, she'll cut him off. Because the plot doesn't like that at all, he'll redial...
She wakes up in Strange Room, Horror Film. We subsequently learn that, in preparation for the synopsis of the movie (chemical attack contaminates air above bunker..), John Goodman built a vast movie set. He equipped it with all the necessary props...food, DVDs, pop songs for montages, chains and handcuffs for Mary Elizabeth Winstead (heroine), etc. That almost got intriguing.
The handcuffs are only jewelry; he'll come in, give her the key, she'll try to stab him, he'll let her out of her room, and take the key away. Outside the room, she'll meet a generic middle-aged filler-character, Emmett, wearing a bushy beard. Because he's utterly bland, she'll instinctively trust him, the way you do a mirror. He extends a stabilizing man-hand toward her when she girl-stumbles (cued by Screenwriter's Instructions); "Keep your hands to your self!" growls John Goodman. Uh, oh; He Knows Something We Don't.
Not that John Goodman is a model bunker-mate either; "I'd like to watch you pee," he informs her, without the clean dialogue. "I can't with you standing there." Somebody watched Death Proof. "This is for my own safety," he counters. Oh, all the right retorts. He has the best line in the movie; "Crazy is building your ark after the flood's already come." But, by the time he says it, it's too late after the toilet standoff, so the spark of context has long waned from it.
"Stay hydrated, and behave," sound advice to Winstead. If she'd heeded it, the whole movie would be a loop of the above paragraph, so she misbehaves and tries to........ never mind; like you might have predicted she would, naughty girl.
If you're going to trap the audience with a quarter-dozen characters, it's not enough that we just stand them; we need to love to hear their dialogue, to watch dramatic friction between them heat up the room, to love watching them move in space. (Jack Torrance, Danny, Tony, Joy Newsome, Daisy Domergue..) So what characterizations does Dan Trachtenberg accord his actors? Well, Winstead as Michelle (otherwise delightful) has a tendency to sound like a low-battery speech synthesizer...but, this is motivated; she's sedated, so, there's smart writing. She does come with a great fake laugh. That's what a reasonable actress does, upon reading a screenplay with (intentionally) bad humor and MICHELLE LAUGHS written under all the jokes. John Goodman has the uncanny ability to show up....just off-screen so the cam grip can whip-pan to him; "Boo! I Was Listening The Whole Time." That's usually the Xenomorph's part, but Goodman'll do.
Thinking I was being over-picky, I paid close attention to Goodman in his close-ups and medium shots; he can't keep himself from looking into the lens, The Office-style, twitching close to laughter at the edgeless expository dialogue he's been given. Maybe that's a long-term side effect of all that tasty Coen-brothers' dialogue... Or, maybe he's heard some spoilers about his character; it's both.
Because the movie deviates from the Horror Formula, feeding off the personas of Goodman and Winstead (hungry feeding there), it sidesteps a lot of the clichés we'd expect, but it's still cumbered by the ones we could have guessed; Winstead Reminds Goodman of His "Daughter" (smiling, a stock memory, in a photo, ...and in a tee-shirt); Emmett Blew His Chance at a Good College (scared of them smart kids!); They All Bond Over A Pop Song Montage; Etc. This stuff is supposed to deepen the characters, give them an existential edge; it just reminds us of the last movie we heard and saw this stuff in.
So, what's the film about? "We'll get attacked by South Korea.." "You mean; North Korea.." "Is that the crazy one?" The very best way, like Billy Wilder once instructed us, to tell the audience a truth that'll taste bitter is to make them laugh; you didn't see Paramount emails leaking for this. So while the movie isn't hauling any speciesist or nationalist agendas, it certainly has undertones of rigoristic preparedness and apocalyptic paranoia. It is, after all, a Cloverfield Movie. Does it have anything new to say about what it's about? It doesn't have to; you don't watch Jaws for some fishing lessons.
For a guy, using fifteen million dollars to make a Studio Movie that didn't need to be any good, Trachtenberg did no wrongs. Excluding the crash sequence, his movie doesn't contain a single terrible cut, a claim only one in a thousand movies can make. Horror films tend to work toward disorientation through poor mishmash editing and obscure lighting. Trachtenberg goes the other way, using the spare amount of true drama his film has to offer to misdirect our suspicions. He keeps on setting up situations, inherently shaky, and showing the audience he's aware of this by his intelligent choice of resolution. A lot of actual trope subversion happens here, as opposed to trope shout-outs (like Deadpool). Because the film is rooted in unalloyed realism unless it's forced not to, it's extremely terrifying whenever it's forced not to. 7/10 for unadulterated competence. There's a point, when Winstead has to choose between driving to safety, or to a sequel.... I'd have made the same choice.