10 Cloverfield Lane

I was thinking…

…sound is an integral part of the movie experience. I know what you’re thinking. Duh. Of course sound is important.

But I mean sound has as much to do with setting mood and establishing a believable world in a film as the film image itself does. Nowhere is this more evident in recent pictures than in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

From the outset of the film, non-diegetic music fills the air. For five minutes there are no sound effects, no audible dialogue. Only the eerie strains of Bear McCreary’s haunting score set the mood. More at home with scoring television series like Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead, McCreary’s musical talents transfer quite nicely to this story that is part horror, part science fiction and a whole lot of suspense.

A young woman and hopeful clothing designer named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth WinsteadScott Pilgrim vs. The World, A Good Day to Die Hard) leaves her fiance (Bradley Cooper‘s voice–American Sniper) and hits the road. As night falls, she is run off the road in the middle of the country. Waking up and chained to a pipe, she discovers she is being held in an underground bunker.

Her captor, Howard (John GoodmanTrumbo, The Monuments Men) claims to actually be her savior as he is convinced the United States has been attacked–either by Russia or Martians–and the air on the surface is not safe. Whether a chemical or nuclear attack has been launched, he is not certain, but he is sure they must stay underground if they are to survive.

Also in the bunker is a young man named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.Jonah Hex), who says he helped Howard build the bunker years before and therefore knew where to go in order to escape the attack. His description of what happened is that he saw a bright red flash but knows little else, so Michelle is suspicious of Howard’s intentions.

As if to confirm her suspicions, Michelle hears what she believes to be cars driving overhead and later they all hear what Howard describes as non-U.S. helicopters flying by.

But as the trio spends days and weeks together, Michelle and Emmett both vacillate as to what has happened on the surface and whether Howard can be trusted. Howard maintains a totalitarian rule in their underground world, never parting from the keys that unlock the doors to the bunker and never taking his revolver off his belt. Worse still, his mood is unstable and fluctuates rapidly, making him as great a danger as whatever potential threat looms above ground.

The aforementioned score is joined by a disturbing selection of 1960’s pop music Howard plays on his jukebox, in an effort to offset or perhaps to ironically enhance the dark mood of the overall picture.

In conjunction with the music is the use of sound effects themselves. The lock on Michelle’s bedroom/cell is exemplified by a harsh scraping shriek that serves as a constant reminder that Michelle is not ever really safe but remains a prisoner no matter how self-proclaimingly munificent her captor.

Director Dan Trachtenberg maintains a lot of tight shots–specifically on Michelle–pushing the viewer into her space as much as possible. There is no question she is the protagonist and we fear for her from the very first scene. What I like about how she is portrayed, however, is she is not a helpless, brainless damsel in distress. She devises, plans, schemes and, no matter how dire her circumstances become, she almost always keeps a cool, calculating head. In short, she is a heroine behind whom I can get.

A blend of Misery (1990) and Signs (2002), 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a very long film, but certainly feels like it. The pacing is languorous, admittedly building on the suspense but dragging out the viewer’s patience.

Nevertheless, the payoff does come and Michelle sums up every audience members’ thoughts with a simple line. See the film and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Wonderfully cast, each of the three main actors do fantastic jobs in their respective roles. Goodman portrays such an intimidating and, at times, sympathetic character, I am on edge whenever he is on screen, which is–I am certain–the entire point.

The minor faults notwithstanding, 10 Cloverfield Lane is worth a trip to the theater–just try to arrive as far into the trailers as possible.

Ammo Dump rating: 8 out of 10 broken bottles

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @ALphaEXray.

10 Cloverfield Lane
Rated PG-13
Run time: 105 minutes




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