10 Cloverfield Lane redraws franchise lines

Originally written for scenome.com

Being the kind-of-but-not-really sequel no one wanted to a movie few people like is a lot like being the male lead in a ballet. Not only do you have to tell people you’re a male ballerina, but then you actually have to get out there in those weird shoes and show them what you’re made of. It takes a lot of boldness to be different while giving people something they may not want. But, if “10 Cloverfield Lane” isn’t the most goddamn bold, beautiful male ballerina in all the land, then I clearly don’t know what beauty is.

Everything about this movie screams bold. From its production being so confidential, it would make Area 51 aliens rethink everything they knew; to its smaller scale in an era where the sequel is just the original on supplemental growth hormones. They could’ve just taken the original, which was a monster movie where the monster was super elusive and filmed with a shaking camera operated by a loud pudgy comedian but then the monster shows up at the end and eats said camera and pudgy comedian. I mean, the rule of sequels dictates the monster now be elusivier, the camera always be jumping up and down like a coked-up rabbit and the camera operator be Kevin James.

But “Lane” goes the opposite direction. It owes nothing to the original. Rules of the monster genre also do not apply here, as the film goes the route of “Ex Machina” or “It Follows,”as a modern genre flick focused more on characters in an intimate scenario than the jump scares that a more demanding audience expects. For example, a movie like this would usually open with the young heroine, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), finding herself handcuffed to the pole, right before an urgent-faced, gun-strapped John Goodman barrels into the room spouting nonsense. That’s the stuff the demon goats in my nightmares have nightmares about. However, the intro is treated more elegantly—with an intense silence. All we see is our heroine quickly packing up her apartment, hurrying to get away with only her muted actions and an ominous score for context. She’s running away from something. That’s all we know, and that’s how all great mysteries should start

Eventually, though, through a series of events, she does find a way into the horrifying arms of an urgent-faced, gun-strapped John Goodman, destroying his usual Papa Smurf archetype in a career best role. He’s shady, fidgety and hiding something most sinister . . . or is he?! He claims the outside world is gone—poof—and that he has indeed saved her. Trapped in a bunker with one other gentleman (John Gallagher, Jr.), Michelle has no choice but to ride out the storm. You know what they say though—Hell is where you make it (cue sinister laugh followed by choking on spit).

Now, to explain further would destroy the mystique—and this movie is all mystique. So to sum it up in one paragraph: the movie acts like a tormenting older brother who tortures you with ghost stories. One moment, he’s regaling you with a tale about how haunted your house is, and then, right as your sheets are beginning to moisten, he tells you he made it all up. Just as you’re beginning to fall asleep, he starts in with the “oooooo0, Matt, we’re coming for you . . . . Oooooo!” The movie jumps right into the horror, and through a shocking twist, actually becomes lighter, and just when you feel safe in the little bunker—outfitted with Monopoly and a DVD copy of “Pretty in Pink”—the terror strikes back. You can never really escape any of the universe’s monsters, as the movie proves. But what are you going to do about it?

This is a monster movie at its core. But thanks to genius writing from Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle (fresh off the phenomenal “Whiplash”), “Lane” acts as a monster movie purely on a human level. It looks at the survival element from a completely different, minimalist, intimate angle involving three survivors, but exists in the realm of a monster/chemical apocalypse/Trump was elected president motif. Thank God for that, too, because had “Lane” not had the “Cloverfield” name attached, , and whatever inclinations the audience brings with it,  the ending would seem like M. Night Shyamalan had gone full conspiracy-theory hobo and just started screaming actions at the actors. Luckily, though, it will make a little sense to those familiar with the original. If not . . . may I introduce you to Shyamalan hobo. His best friend is a underwear-stealing pixie.

In reality, this should be the movie people were looking for when they went to see the first “Cloverfield” and instead were treated to a celluloid poopy baby diaper (not my opinion, only the one of everyone I’ve ever met ever). There’s no shaky cam, the terror is taut and the mystery of “what’s out there?” couldn’t be more palpable.  And yet, I dread people will hate it more. Its seat-gripping, thriller style will disappoint those expecting CGI monsters as opposed to the ones they get instead and, like I said, the ending will seem cheap and confusing to any not willing to care about the greater subtext or have basic familiarity with the original movie. But the ballet isn’t for everyone I suppose. There’s always three “Transformers” sequels you can watch.

Grade: A

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