Dead end

Ever feel like John Goodman is standing right behind you?

There's so much hype and meta movie talk around the sci-fi thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane that many seem to have missed that it's a piece-of-garbage movie. And it's part of a franchise, so lucky us, there's more where that came from!

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, who we first meet on a dark road outside of New Orleans. Her ex-boyfriend keeps calling her iPhone and the radio's talking about nationwide blackouts. Michelle promptly suffers a car wreck and then wakes up confined in an underground bunker with homeowner Howard (John Goodman) and his neighbor Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Are these men kidnappers, saviors or some gross combination? Are they in cahoots or is Howard the sole madman? And what's going on outside of the shelter?

First-timer Dan Trachtenberg directs the film, brought to us by JJ Abrams' Bad Robot Productions, which is responsible for 2008's similarly named found footage monster movie Cloverfield. The new picture isn't a sequel, Abrams insists, but a "blood relative" of the original. Trachtenberg claims it's not a "shared fictional universe" either, and this is where it starts to get really irritating, because what the hell is it then? For now, the two films are linked thematically and tonally, and these links will further reveal themselves in future movies. I'm not a doctor, but it sounds to me like they took a small story about people trapped in a basement, slapped some Cloverfield-like events on it ad hoc and then marketed the movie to us in a shameful cash grab.

To be fair, all three leads are doing good work with the razor-thin material, but let's not get carried away. Goodman as the emotionally volatile conspiracy theorist is frightening as ever, but it's basically a revival of his unstable persona from Barton Fink. In Michelle, it's nice to see a strong female protagonist MacGyvering her way out of a tough spot. It's among the most common protagonist types in all of horror; but hey, manic pixie dream girls in tank tops can do anything they put their minds to, and that's a lesson that bears repeating.

The camera favors a lot of closeups of Michelle's face. When the viewer can't see the whole room, it makes the hero feel vulnerable to a jump scare, but that's just made-up tension; it's not real. Add to that an incessant and overbearing score, and now we've got two layers of fake dread to really hammer home the message that this girl's in danger.

When Howard talks to Michelle about his theories on what's happening in the outside world (aliens or Russians, probably) it's an intriguing glimpse into a disordered mind, and I wanted more. But, alas, this is a script impatient to get to its dumb conclusion, where psychological revelations are relegated to a sentence or two in order to make room for a series of red herrings presented as shorthand from other stories that don't amount to anything.

Fans of 10 Cloverfield Lane are adamant about not revealing any crazy twists and turns. On the subject of spoilers in my reviews, I try hard to be a good sport, but with this one I'm kind of at a loss. Is it a spoiler to tell you the film has no twists and turns? Everything leading up to the conclusion follows a natural trajectory from the things that came before. Goodman seems like a villain, and he is. As for what's outside the bunker: the answer is in the goddamn title. Just use what you know about Cloverfield and make a wild guess.

10 Cloverfield Lane continues at the Carmike 12.

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