10 Cloverfield Lane is franchise film done right

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Lately, mainstream Hollywood movies suffer from one of two problems: either they have an interesting set up with no follow through, or they have characters doing ridiculously difficult things without explaining how they got those skills. It’s all too common and particularly annoying when it happens in a movie that otherwise seems so promising.

10 Cloverfield Lane does not suffer from either of these problems. In fact, it could probably be studied in Film Studies 101 for its well-crafted screenplay.

Unfortunately, any discussion of this film must start with a spoiler warning. Beware, you have been warned. As a spiritual successor to the 2008 alien invasion film Cloverfield, we have to acknowledge that there are aliens in this universe. In fact, in the first 10 minutes you have to acknowledge that, barring technological anachronisms, this film starts at the same time as Cloverfield, but a few states away. So when the characters in this film are in the bunker thinking it’s the end of the world, they don’t know the nature of their apocalypse.

This is a brilliant concept for a franchise film because instead of relying on a consistent canon of knowledge by which the characters must abide, they can play with the facts — keeping the audience in the dark about the specifics.

It also allows suspense to be built on the micro level inside the bunker while keeping the audience waiting for the pin to drop outside.

But even if you don’t care about these film-nerd details and just want a solid horror film, 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a long underutilized actress, gets the chance to kick some ass while also doing some real, first-rate acting. So much of this film is devoted to little mysteries and the clues that unravel them.

Winstead gives every moment the touch it needs to be really impactful and shows us her growth; we believe the amazing things she can do. John Gallagher Jr. is also really effective by subverting the type he developed in HBO’s The Newsroom. But it’s John Goodman who steals the show.

Goodman has always been a great comedic force (think of him on Roseanne) and can also do intensity really well (think The Big Lebowski), but I can’t remember him in a role like this. He is intense, of course, but it’s creepier here. He’s obviously a conspiracy nut and obsessed with the end of the world, but you learn throughout the film that his past is more complicated.

He has real admirable qualities. That’s not to say he’s a good guy, but that’s all part of what makes the role so good. You can’t pin him down and that just adds to the suspense of the film in general.

10 Cloverfield Lane is to Cloverfield as Jessica Jones is to The Avengers. It takes a universe, scales it down and makes it personal so that it doesn’t feel like just another franchise movie.

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