Saturday, March 12, 2016

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE: APOCALYPSE MAYBE





Warning:  Complete spoilers!  See the movie first.

Dear 10 Cloverfield Lane Filmmakers:

I was so excited by the reviews of this film, which I knew nothing about but assumed I wouldn't be interested in if it were a sequel to Cloverfield, which I didn't even want to see. Don't get me wrong:  I love a good horror film.  There are just so few that are scary or fresh. The reviews of your film were great.  I got my ticket for the Dome in Hollywood on opening night.  The audience largely loved it, judging by their applause.  I was sorely disappointed.

I know your movie will make a ton of money and spawn a sequel.  But I was deflated because it was painfully obvious that the movie could not only have been a box office smash; it could have been a genre classic.  Instead, I saw a mashup of true classics, beginning with Psycho (heroine packs bag, goes on the run, with dire results) to Room (abducted and imprisoned woman) to Alien (Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle not only resembling Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, but dealing with a derivative alien that looks like a low-budget giant penis).  I held hope until that third act, but as soon as the penis/alien ship arrived, I had no choice but to abandon all hope and jump spaceship, so to speak.

Not that you care, but here are my notes on what could have made the film a real contender:

1.  Michelle-in-captivity.  Our heroine takes manic flight, apparently from her boyfriend after a fight (in retrospect it's supposed to seem that perhaps she might have known about some impending doomsday event, but that doesn't really fly because why wouldn't she have taken Ben's phone calls if it didn't have to do only with him, and why is she surprised when Howard first speaks of it?).  She has a horrific auto accident, then awakens chained in a bunker with an IV, a scary-stained-old-timey brace around her knee, but luckily just a couple of small lacerations (hair and make-up remarkably intact)--amazing considering that her car landed down a hillside on its roof.  Now, just the bunker situation would be pretty darned disorienting and majorly traumatic.  Undaunted upon consciousness, however, our heroine goes into immediate McGyver mode.  I know what you're thinking:  we wanted to show a strong, smart female heroine, not just a victim.  How wonderfully PC.  But come on, guys, how about just a tad more psychological realism?  See below regarding Samantha Eggar's character (pictured with co-star Terence Stamp) in The Collector--she's about as strong and resourceful as they come, and that was way back in 1965 before most of you were born!




2.   Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.).  Oh boy.  I felt for Gallagher.  First, that godawful pubic beard.  But I think I understand what you were going for.  Can Michelle trust him?  

Is he nuts like her captor Howard (John Goodman)?  Is Emmett another prisoner or is he there willingly?  Does he have borderline intellectual functioning?  Regardless, Michelle is more than borderline stupid to  a) trust him with the reveal of the earring and the photo of her predecessor; b) openly collaborate with (i.e., not manipulate) him regarding a plan to escape.  If it were too hard to figure out how to make Michelle psychologically play him, it would have at least been interesting for her, in desperation, to try to enlist him, only to have him betray her.  Upping the stakes even more!

3.  What is the deal with Howard? 
Killer, survivalist, or both--as a friend asked--I guess both.  It's pretty well established that he probably raped and killed the previous female captive Meghan, but what's his plan for Michelle?  Are we really supposed to think that his predatory instincts were held in check by the presence of Emmett?  As for the means of disposal, I have three words:  over the top.

4. The third act.  Come on!  It's not even Kim Jong Un and a nuclear attack but rather a goofy alien that looks like the retarded spawn of its predecessor in Alien (it can't even destroy a shed and can be vanquished by a makeshift molotov cocktail, as aforementioned friend pointed out)?  BTW, that unopened bottle of Scotch that Michelle took with her (do you think it's realistic that someone her age actually drinks Scotch?) was an awfully convenient plant--and wasn't it a lucky break for her that the bottle didn't break in the crash and that Howard left it in his truck?



5.  Backwards plot planting.  Talk about convenience:  luckily for Michelle, she's an aspiring clothing designer, so she can sew!  Hence she's not only able to stitch Howard's split forehead, but she can fashion a hazmat suit from a shower curtain, a water bottle, and duct tape with just a few tips from a teenzine!  Shame on thee, writers of Whiplash.  I expected better of you--because this enterprise wasn't apparently undertaken with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.  I also expected that you wouldn't have contempt for your audience.

Guys, this movie has the sensibility of an adolescent boy.  Which of course will do fine for box office, but not for film history.  I would have suggested you watch William Wyler's 1965 film The Collector, adapted by John Fowles from his novel, with co-scriptors Stanley Mann and Terry Southern, to help ground you in some psychological realism.  And to have reconsidered that ridiculous third act, which, despite Howard's assertions, seems to come out of left field.  The cornfield may have worked for Field of Dreams but it tanked in Interstellar, remember?  More importantly, I never bought that Michelle bought that the outside world was contaminated, never mind that aliens had invaded.  She would have had to have been more psychologically broken down, Stockholm syndrome and such, to have acquiesced and embraced those family nights with board games.

Oh, well.  Perhaps in the inevitable sequel Michelle will run into Ben in Houston--if you can get Bradley Cooper for a cameo--so we can get their backstory and a little rekindled love interest, which I'm sure you'd agree is nice for the date night audience.  Cooper's a lot older than Winstead, so maybe the bottle of Scotch was for him.  Goodness knows, they'll both be in need of another bottle.

Director:  Dan Trachtenberg.  Screenwriters:  Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle.  Producer:  J. J. Abrams.


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