10 Cloverfield Lane

The low budget “spiritual successor” to Cloverfield

Cloverfield was a serviceable found footage horror film that did well at the box office predominately due to its marketing strategy which featured things that took the burgeoning viral marketing to a whole new level. MySpace accounts were created for each of the characters, websites for the fictional companies that featured in the film could be trawled through for clues and the film itself was announced only as a series of numbers which formed clues that were eventually revealed to the release date. Cloverfield appeared in a few films of the year lists and that was about it. Producer J.J. Abrams would regularly be hounded for details of a possible sequel but appeared not to be able to give a definitive answer. When the upcoming release of 10 Cloverfield Lane was announced early this year there was real surprise as no-one had known that it was even filming let alone finished. This was due to the fact 10 Cloverfield Lane had not been filmed – originally based on a script called ‘The Cellar‘ it was adapted and linked to Cloverfield it was filmed under the codename ‘Valencia’. Here we are in March 2016 and 10 Cloverfield Lane has been released and it bares little resemblance either in tone or story to its predecessor. And it’s good. Very good indeed. So good that it’s definitely in the running for my end of the year top ten list.

Fleeing New Orleans and her fiance, intentionally leaving her engagement ring behind in the process, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) drives far away from the city. In the process she ends up in a nasty car accident. Next thing she knows she wakes up in a basement, her injured leg is handcuffed to the wall. She desperately does all she can to escape but all attempts are futile. The locked door opens and she is greeted by Howard (John Goodman) who explains that he saved her life and yes he is keeping her trapped down in the basement but it’s for her own good. His rather menacing nature and pointing out of how much Michelle owes him hugely unsettle Michelle who is desperate to leave. She also meets the other resident of the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who has known Howard for most of his life and is certain that Howard is a conspiracy nut but fundamentally a good guy. Time passes before the pair admit to Michelle why she cannot leave the bunker, a chemical attack has taken place in the outside world contaminating  the air and killing the world’s population in the process. The unknown assailants have made the outside world unlivable and the trio’s only hope to stay alive is to remain in the bunker. All of life’s comforts are there, as Howard has spent most of life preparing for such a situation, but Howard’s increasingly controlling and menacing behaviour makes Michelle desperate to leave. Taking matters into her own hands Michelle soon realises the truth of what has happened.

What is truly impressive about this film is how cleverly it terrifies the audience. Considering it is a 12a (something I have an issue with concerning the themes and some of the moments of the film) it manages to do so much with so few of the big violent scares of other horror films. Two of the film’s tensest moments are when Michelle crawls through the ventilation shaft, twice. Through a brilliant combination of editing, camera work, sound and acting they were both sequences I had to watch through my fingers whilst desperately hoping for the best possible outcome. There are a few moments of big and jumpy scares, many of them coming from loud noises that have never sounded so scary, but most of the moments are slow-building subtle fears that build to genuine terror. This is through the fantastic storytelling and narrative. Information is so carefully withheld then slowly realised to the audience. Every new revelation requires a reassessment of what we know and what we expect will happen next.

We know little about what has actually happened outside and we have little reason to trust our primary source for that information. John Goodman is truly terrifying as mysterious Howard whose character gains murkier and murkier added depths with each conversation. He’s a dangerous blend of menace and deluded altruism with every sequence in which he appears forcing us to eye him dubiously, wondering how much he says is actually the truth and how big a threat he plays towards Michelle. The slow revelations that follow only complicate our distrust and unease of his character. Gallagher Jr.’s Emmett is a much-needed comic foil into the tense mix, when tension hits sky-high level it is masterfully lowered with  a dose black humour. Winstead’s performance as Michelle is the best of her career, making a character who is truly sympathetic and one which we are desperate to succeed. I’d even argue that, in a year which saw Brie Larson win an Oscar from Room in which she played a woman held in captivity, that Winstead’s performance rivals Larson’s. Winstead’s blend of determination to leave and her struggling to accept the awareness of its possible futility may have resulted in one of the finest acting performances of the year.

If you’re looking for a film that clocks in at one hour and a half, that will drain you of every emotion possible, make you jump out of your seat and shield your eyes in concern, then you’ve come to the right place. Well worth seeing, if you dare…

The Gift (2015)

Dare you look inside?

This film is good. Really good. It’s wicked, smart and tense. So tense, you’ll be on the edge of your sheet for most of the film’s 1hr 50min running time. Few contemporary Hollywood films are able to hook in an audience so quickly, so subtly, and keep them gripped to the end credits. Belonging to the ‘thriller’ genre this film (written directed and starring Joel Edgerton) it manages to avoid all the perils of a bad thriller movie. Typically films of this genre are set up with a chunk of exposition, a boring and obvious way of introducing character and story. With ‘The Gift’ Egerton totally avoids this hurdle, instead he sprinkles exposition into dialogue. Twists and turns are set up in a way that it is only once they happen that you realise they were even set up in the first place. Not once does the film dip in tension or give any hints on what will happen next. If you’ve seen the trailer and thought you’d seen it all, you really haven’t!

Robin (Rebecca Hall) and Simon (Jason Batman) move from Chicago to California, to an area not far from Simon’s hometown. When shopping for new home supplies the pair are approached by ‘Gordo’ (Joel Edgerton) who identifies himself as being an old school friend of Simon’s. Gordo quickly establishes himself in their lives, dropping off gifts and making surprise visits at their home. Although Robin seems happy enough to maintain contact with the ‘socially awkward’ Gordo, Simon grows uneasy with Gordo’s behaviour and decides to ‘break-up’ with him and ends their friendship. Gordo does not let this go easily and continues to have a hold over the pair. Secrets from the past swiftly and menacingly threaten to ruin their seemingly idealistic life.

This film is both modern yet welcomingly old-fashioned. Its plot and pacing align it with Hitchcockian storytelling. The fact that much of the film focuses on Robin’s perspective is a throwback to the Gothics of the 1940s. Her doubts over Gordo, and as a result doubts about her husband, are never overblown or ‘too’ melodramatic but rooted in a degree of realism and with complete sympathy. What could be a one dimensional role is instead fully rounded with Hall’s nuances, her subtle discomfort apparent yet carefully and gradually revealed. Bateman is equally as good, barely recognizable in a role that goes far beyond type. All too often taking the role of fraught and downtrodden father figure, he places the role of Simon with ease as he carefully navigates the fine lien between charming and douchebaggery. Whilst we are swift to become uncertain of Gordo’s intent, we soon realise that we know just as little about Simon. His interactions with both Robin and Gordo remain intriguing and frequently unsettling from start to finish.

 But it is Edgerton who remains the star here, portraying the oddest and most secretive of the three leads. Often films like this will signpost, practically with flashing neon lights, what will happen next and who we can trust. Within his script, cinematography and characterisation Edgerton doesn’t do this. All of these dimensions are far too complex for that, refusing to let the viewer rest on their laurels or take a breather. Nothing is certain in this cinematic universe; no-one can be trusted.

A surprise of a movie, engrossing and unpredictable in equal measure. This is a fantastic directorial debut, a tense psycho-thriller and well worth seeing.