Once more, dear friends, to “Cloverfield” we go.
Another trip into monster-movie land. Another blast of J.J. Abrams hype. Another movie floated to us in an attempted sea of secrecy.
Does it live up to the brand, the hype, the attempts at hiding what we cannot NOT know about what’s going on?
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is, we know from the commercials, a survivors of “the event” of “Cloverfield” tale. They’re holding out in a bunker. Or it’s an abduction picture, with the unutterably gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Smashed,” TV’s “Mercy Street”) scheming, battling to get out, to escape the clutches of the hulking, menacing and plainly-a-bit-deranged John Goodman.
Is this just a seriously inferior version of “Room”, or a mostly humorless riff on “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” with a fetching hostage yearning to break free? Or did this Howard fellow do her a favor when he plucked her from a road accident and brought him into his lair, buried beneath his rural Louisiana farmhouse?
It turns out that putting “Cloverfield” in the title of your movie, much of the guesswork is gone. And all the armed survivalist Howard’s protests about “ingratitude,” as he endures this or assault or trickery might have a point.
“There is nowhere for you to go.”
Then again, there are fates worse than what’s been going on on the surface, and there’s no guesswork to those either, as we’ve seen Howard’s explosive tirades, and scores of movies about this sort of creep.
The best the team of screenwriters can come up with here is keeping Michelle (Winstead) in the dark about what’s happened in The World. But since we know, remembering the shaky-cam special that was “Cloverfield,” we don’t fear for what she finds when she gets up there (Nor does she, judging from her lackluster performance).
Aliens invaded — Godzilla monsters, civilization under assault. We remember even if she doesn’t.
Howard’s paranoid refusal to share details (Does he have any?), the lack of media access (Is there any media left?) and the slim bits of corroboration of the OTHER possible hostage/rescued survivor (John Gallagher Jr. of “Short Term 12”) are all Michelle has to go on.
It’s just that Howard’s behavior is creepier and more immediately threatening than anything her imagination could create.
The slim pickings of the script leave long stretches of dull downtime between the few showcase moments of violence. Director Dan Trachtenberg doesn’t compensate for this.
The spectacular car wreck may have you wondering what they put poor Winstead through to get that shot in the can. But seriously, we’ve seen spectacular, in-the-car-camera crashes before. The shaky cam returns for the finale, for those who might have nodded off long before.
What “10 Cloverfield Lane” (And how does that title logically tie-in to the labeled found footage the military had its hand on for “Cloverfield”?) relies on most heavily is performance. And Winstead, a good actress, gives us little suggestion of terror and Goodman leaves little doubt about Howard’s malevolence.
Gallagher? He’s just dull at playing an exceptionally dull character
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is built on the fear of an unknown that we know. Turns out, all that secrecy and hype and branding the “Cloverfield” name were not just this product’s marketing strategy. That’s all they had. Period.
So, “Room” is still in theaters. It’s more harrowing, more terrifying, more thrilling and moving than “Cloverfield Lane” could ever hope to be. And it stars an Oscar winner and reminds us that the scariest things on Earth are actually on Earth. Go see that instead.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language
Running time: 1:44