Friday, March 25, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

This is a sort of related movie to Cloverfield, a movie that was so good, they talked about a sequel for years and now, nine years later, we're only getting the first tangentially-related thing to it. Nine years! That must mean this is just that much better for all that time, right? Oh yeah, and there are spoilers in this, by the way. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I accidentally spoiled the movie for you. No, literally. I'd have to impale myself on a sword, Seppuku-style, if I spoiled this one for you.

Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

The movie starts with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, a young white woman who is in a fight with her boyfriend when she's run off the road by a car. The voice of the boyfriend, by the way, is provided by Bradley Cooper of all people. I'm sure this will be a role he will look back on with misty eyes in his old age and go, yes, that was my best work ever.

She wakes up chained to a radiator in a dirty basement, which is obviously immediately distressing, and also same as the beginning of the Oscar-nominated drama from 2015, “Room.” That is a comparison I am sure the rest of the movie will no doubt keep making, and from here on out, I will only like this movie if and when it reminds me of the Oscar-nominated 2015 drama "Room." Anything else is lesser and I will throw it in the proverbial incinerator.

She spends a few minutes trying to get her cell phone from across the room and does so by breaking the IV tube she's hooked up to and using the pole to grab it. She does get the phone, and it's also incredibly lucky she didn't really need that IV tube thing for medical reasons or whatever. Seriously, she's pretty much fine afterward. Her leg is also in a cast and she's told to get used to walking on crutches, but we see she walks pretty good even with the supposed injured leg... not sure why THAT was in the story at all...

But I digress. Like in every horror film ever made, there's no cell signal when she grabs the phone. Of course there isn't. You're in a dark basement hole that looks like a pedophile's wet dream. What do you expect? Did you think he'd just have really good, full-bar cell service in that fucking nightmare dungeon?

"Goddamn Sprint!"

John Goodman comes in after that, playing a character called Howard, who is the guy who trapped her there. He says he saved her and she should be grateful to him because of that. No mention of how he chained her to a pipe for no damn reason, huh? That's never really addressed. We see later he has a perfectly nice upstairs area with a couch that could have convinced her she WASN'T some kind of kidnapped sex slave in a rape dungeon and made the whole thing go smoother. But I guess he just likes making things purposefully difficult!

To make things even more unclear, creepy and rape-y, she tries to escape and then Howard grabs her by the throat and sticks her with a syringe full of something that makes her pass out. He doesn't offered any real explanation for any of this, which is totally normal and not a hackneyed screenwriting device to make the movie go on longer. Why doesn't he just tell her what's wrong and prove it? Sure, she might be skeptical, but that would still be better than her thinking you're about to make her a sex slave or something. He eventually caves into the boredom of actually explaining things like a functioning human being, and tells her the world has ended. Ya know. The rational explanation.

The movie does get better after that. I'll admit. There's this other guy in the bunker with them, Emmett, who acts as a pretty good decent tolerable eh-we'll-go-with-it comic relief, and some nice scenes where you don't quite know where the film's going yet – some decent paranoia and world-building that work because you've seen so little of it. The uncertainty over Howard's motives and whether he's crazy or the world really has ended make this a pretty decent suspense sequence. And you get some good tension out of these scenes. So I will throw everyone else a bone and admit these parts of the movie were pretty cool. And I liked the scene where they hear someone outside and it turns out to be a woman with her face melting. That was pretty wholesome family fun.

There's also at least an attempt at character development with Howard talking about his daughter and how he lost her – John Goodman really sells that scene and it works; good scene. The rest of the character development doesn't fare that well, though. Like you get Emmett moaning about how he wanted to go to college but was too scared he'd be perceived as dumb, so he didn't go. It's really quite hammy, lame dialogue and just slows the movie down. And he should've saved it for his therapist, if his therapist is still alive in this nuclear future. If she isn't, well, she'll probably wish she was after listening to this idiotic sob story from a man-child like this guy. I know that sounds harsh, but hey, it's a fictional character. Who cares?

Michelle's isn't much better – she talks about how one time, she saw a kid being abused in public and did nothing. Truly she is the victim here and the real one we should feel sorry for!

If this all seems too routine and standard for you, don't worry: there is one scene where they turn on some silly pop music and have a montage of them playing board games. I must have missed the cut where this transformed into a commercial from the early 90s for a game like Monopoly or Clue!

Buy Candyland at your local K-Mart today!

Then they have a scene where they talk about missing pieces of a puzzle they're trying to build, so now you know the conflict is really heating up in there! I'm on the edge of my seat!

Things go topsy turvy again when the writers hit a dead end in the script, and so we get Michelle going up to another part of the bunker and finding out that there's HELP scrawled in the glass with blood on it, plus an earring that the other guy recognizes as that of a girl who went missing a few years ago. So it's pretty much set in stone – Howard may have built a fallout shelter that could survive the end of society, but he's still a perverted killer who kidnaps young girls. I'm really surprised at that given that his method of accommodating car crash victims is to chain them up in his basement and not explain anything about why they're there. Oh, wait, no I'm not.

After this, Howard turns into a completely different character – he's suddenly totally unsympathetic, and there turns out to be no doubt that he is in fact a monster. They try to plan to escape, but he finds out and kills the one guy. The movie turns into a slasher movie then as Michelle tries to escape and he starts chasing her like Jason Voorhees. She dumps acid on him and escapes through an air vent, but – uh oh! - he chases her and starts stabbing through the air vent like, again, a slasher movie.

Somehow, he keeps surviving, even after she dumped acid on his face. She does eventually kill him by blowing up the entire bunker, which is like killing a fly by shooting up your room with an AK-47. You know what they say about kidnapping and killing high school girls – it gives you invincibility powers. Man, my friends and I really were off the ball when we played superheroes as kids. This movie has it right.

So, yeah, she escapes to find out that the air is not poisonous like Howard had been telling them. Instead, a giant alien monster flying overhead sees her and starts to chase her. This results in a completely perfunctory supernatural alien chase scene tacked onto the end of their kidnapping underground end of the world movie, which fits in like a square peg in a round hole. I get that it's a Cloverfield movie, so it involves aliens, but the way this is done just feels half-assed.

And, it's full of just flat out weak-ass moments like when she sets off a car alarm by accident, so, whoopsy-daisy on that one! Or the other time when she finally kills the thing by lighting a bottle of alcohol on fire and throwing it at the monster. All of these things are ultimately just tired, cliche crap and don't provide any heart pounding excitement in what should be the movie's "big scene." I really think this sequence should've been extended and introduced way earlier in the movie. Maybe we could've gotten some good scenes if the thing had met (and maybe killed) Howard.

That means there's a definite hierarchy of power here: the bloated fat country bumpkin with a paranoid conspiracy end-of-world bunker was WAAAAY harder to defeat than the UFO monster that's ten times Michelle's size. But she beat them both! So it's a feminist statement, which means I am officially allowed to like the movie now.

This movie isn't terrible or anything, but it's half-assed, and there are too many lame things in it for me to say I enjoyed it that much. It was pleasant at times and had a few moments of good suspense. John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were both good in their roles, though Winstead was kind of wasted – she was a sort of generic character and could've been any young, fit looking actress and the movie would be no different. But she was OK.

Honestly, though, the tired and played out arc of the mystery surrounding Goodman's Howard character just made this so lame to me at times. He was about as mysterious as a fucking report card spelling everything out very clearly. And that was a great metaphor, as great as the pyramids of Egypt. I mean, sure, there were some moments in the first act where it SEEMED like the film was going some other way, but then in the end, it played out exactly like I thought it would; he was evil and that was it. Totally boring.

The sci-fi twist at the end could have been good, I guess, but it just feels like it was rushed and after-the-fact. Why should I care about anything that happens during that sequence? I already sat through the movie's main conflict. If killing an aging John Goodman is harder than killing the badass alien thing you put in at the end of your movie, then you're doing it wrong and you need to go back to the drawing board.

Overall, not the worst ever, and I do appreciate the attempt to create a new world and mythology of these characters rather than just remake something old. But Cloverfield just isn't selling me yet that it deserves to be a franchise with multiple movies.

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