Thursday, 10 March 2016

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Predictable followup to alien thriller

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Scr. Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Cloverfield by Matt Reeves and from a script by Drew Goddard, was a surprisingly effective science fiction horror thriller in the found footage shaky-cam style. Why it needed a $25 million budget was somewhat beyond me, especially when pictures with equally terrific effects and production value have been generated for a fraction of the cost. No matter, the cam-corder-captured party, followed by an alien attack and harrowing rescue effort, was a genuinely terrifying roller coaster ride - nicely directed and with some sharp writing.

The same cannot be said for 10 Cloverfield Lane. Though not a direct sequel, it's set in the aftermath of the alien invasion from the aforementioned surprise hit. Though designed as an extremely low budget horror film with a tiny cast and claustrophobic setting, one of its meagre virtues is that it has far more gloss and polish than the first sojourn into the Cloverfield world. It's shot straight-up in a classical mode, eschewing the previous picture's camcorder look.

Happily, original director (and co-writer) Damien Chazelle dropped the property like a hot potato when he received the dough he need to make the terrific Whiplash. Producer J.J. Abrams brought Dan Trachtenberg, ace director of T.V. commercials to the helm. Though this results in a great look, a shocking car accident sequence and two superb montage sequences, the picture is pretty much a snore.

When babe Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) takes off into the country to chill after breaking up with her boyfriend Ben (the voice of Bradley Cooper via a couple of telephone calls), her car goes off the road in the middle of the night. She wakes up to find herself chained in a stark basement. Soon, she's visited by Howard (John Goodman) her rescuer and host.

She's in shackles for good reason. There's been a chemical warfare attack and Howard needs to gently break the news to her. He doesn't want her to do something stupid and try to leave his fallout shelter, bringing instant death to herself and potentially letting the poisonous atmosphere inside. She eventually meets hunky local good old boy Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) who is also a resident of the well-built shelter.

For most of the movie, Michelle is looking for ways to escape since she thinks Howard might be lying. He also creeps her out. Eventually, the tension twixt the two turns deadly and a (purportedly) scary truth indeed looms outside.

All of this can be seen from miles away.

Unlike Cloverfield's svelte 85-minute running time, this second in what Paramount Pictures hopes will be a new franchise, is a lugubrious 105 minutes. There's plenty of dialogue - some of it good enough, but most of it awful - plus a narrative so predictable that it would take a major mental deficiency to not see where the picture is headed.

Sadly, we're forced to sit through the by-rote advances in the ho-hum plot. All (and I do mean ALL) the "shocking" revelations come precisely when they should, offering little surprise.

Each beat feels like Syd Field and/or Robert McKee 101.

(By the way, I think both Field and McKee - McKee perhaps less so - have a lot to offer, but for some reason mainstream studio plot construction "geniuses" can't seem to realize that both of the aforementioned screenwriting gurus encourage the notion of breaking the rules, but ONLY once the rules have been thoroughly understood, tried, applied, then made better by spring-boarding away from them.)

The three central actors perform this dross admirably, but nothing can really save the film from being utterly, thoroughly dull. This might have not mattered so much if the ride had offered up some genuine thrills, but alas it does not. It spring-boards into tedious familiarity.

Though I'm always happy to watch the great John Goodman, it's a bit disheartening to see him get so much screen time with a role as run of the mill as this one. Howard is an ex-military survivalist nutcase and child rapist. Goodman does his best to play things straight, but the role is so poorly etched that Goodman can do little but waste screen time deflecting his character's predictability. As such, he works very hard to deliver as interesting and blessedly low-key a performance as possible.

Paramount is making much ado about nothing in their efforts to convince audiences not to "spoil" the proceedings. Sadly, the movie does a pretty good job of that, all by its lonesome. Given the running time and dullish pace, the movie also gives us plenty of time to spot all the gaping plot holes. Many of them are so Mack-truck sized, they're impossible to avoid.

Worse yet, though the movie is a mere fraction of the Cloverfield cost, there are still any number of films which have far more skill and imagination at a mere fraction of this picture's "modest" $5 million budget. Just take a gander at any film from Collingwood's Foresight Features (Ejecta, Hellmouth, The Hexecutioners, Septic Man) and you'll see superb production value for thrifty bucks and imagination galore as opposed to predictability galore. As well, the Foresight Features pictures are actually about something which 10 Cloverfield Lane ultimately, is not.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-half-stars

10 Cloverfield Lane is in wide release via Paramount Pictures.