10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane ★★★★½

Oooh yeah! One of those movies that reignites my love for the medium, not that it was flagging or anything, but this actually thrilled me physically and as a (formerly) prospective writer myself. I never wanted to be avant garde or anything – my dream was to write and/or make smart but accessible entertainment like this (and preferably in genre territory), so to see it pulled off so expertly every now and then in movies like "10 Cloverfield Lane" feels like the fulfillment of lifelong hopes. The excitement factor here comes also from the unexpected appearance of this project on the horizon just a couple months ago – no years of hype and incremental spoilerage to diminish the final experience. I realize Hollywood benefits from generating buzz and leaking just about every last detail of its big movies ahead of time, especially now that productions are such an expensive gamble, but I can only imagine how much more satisfying movies like "Captain America: Civil War" or even "Mad Max: Fury Road" (as majestic as it was anyway) would be with 1/10th of the lead-up time and spartan trailer footage. I guess what I'm saying is, we all agree that JJ Abrams is a solid if not trailblazing director, but somebody put that motherfucker in charge of all movie marketing from now on. He pre-sold "The Force Awakens" to us in perfect doses and did the same for this, "Cloverfield", and "Super 8". Somebody clone him already.

Said excitement factor here comes ALSO from the bold mechanics director Dan Trachtenberg and his team build this movie from – the amplified sound mixing that doesn't necessarily cause jump scares but keeps you perpetually on edge, the constant ebb and flow of John Goodman's true nature, the perfectly placed camera angles, close-ups, plot revelations, and soundtrack selections to maximize off-kilter kineticism, and the casting! There are only three people in this movie but it feels like the script was written specifically to suit these actors – John Gallagher Jr. with his laid back affability and meek physicality, the legendary John Goodman's imported screen presence as the most personable big lug since John Candy subverted into true menace through accentuation of his imposing size, affectless delivery, and hardcore stares. This performance deserves a seat at the table with those from "The Big Lebowski", "Matinee", "Barton Fink", and "Monsters Inc." as his greatest big-screen work. And then there's Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose pretty girl-next-door features, combined with those entrancingly large eyes – which account for 90% of her performance, in a good way (I love how the movie patiently spends 30 whole seconds at a time just lingering on tight shots of her face as her eyes dart around thinking their way out of each dilemma) – make her an ideal audience surrogate.

But the script deserves credit too for its refreshing confidence and twist management, how it keeps us wondering what's really going on and doesn't give its characters the most obvious fates. Unlike too many suspense thrillers and sci-fi/horror built around mystery box scenarios, this one never feels like it's padding itself out for lack of material. This may sound cliched, but it triumphs because it cares just as much about the development and arc of these characters as it does about its engrossing storyline. My wife said the ending felt abrupt, and I see what she means, but it actually very directly resolves the core character conflict while showing us all but the least essential of its narrative cards to pay off the mysteries it started out with. What more could we hope for?

On that note, my lone complaint about "10 Cloverfield Lane" is what we see at the very end; WHAT it is is pretty cool and I'm all for it, but how it's visualized isn't as effective. The ending could have been improved by designing a more visceral looking threat instead of CG blurs. They could've still obfuscated the threats in dark, chaotic cinematography but made the implication of what they looked like more...familiar maybe?...so it would seem scarier. As it is, John Goodman remains the most frightening thing about the movie – and he's chilling, for sure, but they tried to top that later and didn't quite succeed, I think.

So this was actually an episode of The Twilight Zone, right? Even including the ending? I've seen that show front to back and could swear there was an episode almost exactly like this, but maybe that's just a testament to how primally efficient this movie is, that it merits comparison to vintage "Twilight Zone" storytelling. Then again, that Hugh Jackman robot boxing movie was an unlicensed reiteration of a TZ episode too, so the connection isn't always so flattering. But in this case it is! This feels like the best of TZ. It's a neo-classic for sure. They could just as well have initiated a new TZ movie universe (that it seems like they've been talking about doing for a decade now) with this movie instead of contriving a "Cloverfield" expansion - taking simple, eerie premises like this and just slapping "The Twilight Zone presents" on the titles. I'd be over the moon to see more Rod Serling-type short story movies in this vein. Oh well.

P.S. best opening credits smash cut since "Cabin in the Woods"

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