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10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/14/2016

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Review by Sydny Long, Posted on 6/12/2016

Who decides whether or not a cult film deserves a sequel? What cinematic deity divines which movie has garnered enough underground praise to be revisited? With the release of Finding Dory this week, it is obvious that some sequels are simply created for the purpose of expanding a lucrative franchise and scraping up every cent of revenue. However, Zoolander failed to earn even half as much as Pixar's marine box office smash, but its reputation as a cult favorite was considered more important than its financial shortcomings when a sequel was proposed. Keeping the fifteen years separating Zoolander 2 from its predecessor in mind, it would seem that most cult films need several years to amass a passionate, vocal audience that will flood Internet forums with demands for a sequel. When Cloverfield stormed into theaters in 2008 though, the Internet literally exploded with an influx of fans who became obsessed with theories and the potentiality of a sequel. Thanks to the occult origins of the movie and its clever marketing, the film had no trouble turning a profit. Though financially successful, Cloverfield was ostensibly considered a cult favorite, which explains why it took eight years for another journey to be taken through the strange, apocalyptic realm of Cloverfield. Will this movie, lamely branded a "spiritual successor", live up to the lofty expectations associated with the first? Or was eight years too long to wait to bank on the Cloverfield hype?

The film opens with designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) running away from her fiance and taking off in her car. After hearing a radio transmission about persistent blackouts across the nation, Michelle wrecks her car in rural Louisiana. She wakes up in a concrete bumper, where she is bumped, bruised, and shackled to the wall. Her captor is Howard (John Goodman), a farmer and doomsday survival expert who tells her that the world has been attacked and that he brought her into his bunker after finding her on the road. When the paranoid Michelle tries to escape, she meets Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a farmhand of Howard's who just barely managed to reach the bunker in time. Michelle is convinced both are lying to her until she witnesses a woman with grotesque skin lesions die outside of the bolted door. With no knowledge about the conditions of the world above, the trio adapts to life underground and finds a sort of miserable merriment in the little world Howard built below, which has no shortage of food, puzzles, and video tapes. However, Howard's unusual and occasionally violent behavior inspires suspicion in Michelle and Emmett, who begin to suspect that there is much more to Howard--and the world above--than what there appears to be.

It is obvious from the movie's first scene that it is not a Cloverfield sequel. The shaky-cam found footage format has been exchanged for the claustrophobic cinematography of a suspense flick and there is no reference to the first film's characters or events. While there isn't anything inherently wrong with these differences (although the end of the first movie had ample fodder for a sequel), the film makes a fatal error by not including the monster. Or any monsters. This is not a Cloverfield movie by any stretch of the imagination, except for a vaguely familiar spacecraft in the film's final minutes that has almost nothing to do with… well, anything, especially the rampaging alien that made the first film so thrilling.

False advertising aside, 10 Cloverfield Lane hardly dazzles with its Misery-esque premise. It is obvious from the moment he is introduced that Howard is not a psychologically stable man, so it is ludicrous for the movie to portray his more unbalanced moments as shocking. While Annie Wilkes started off as an obsessive, but innocuous, fan, Howard is violent and cryptic from the get-go. This essentially quashes any element of mystery or suspense, and unravels the plot when it comes to whether or not Howard should be trusted (judging by his outbursts and weird fixations? Spoiler alert: he shouldn't.)

While the effort to milk the claustrophobic confines of the bunker for dread is admirable, the film also fails to maintain suspense or mood. Aside from an entertaining montage of the trio going about their daily routines to the boppy beat of Tommy James's "I Think We're Alone Now", the characters' interactions are limited to misguided jabs at sentimentality (like Emmett's unnecessarily mawkish backstory, which only emphasizes how pointless his character is) and examinations of Howard's warped personality. The mystery shrouding the attacks to the world above is redundant: though it pretends not to be, 10 Cloverfield Lane is still a sequel and the conditions from the first film would have to occur in the second for any sort of continuity to be established.

And what disappointing conditions those are. The finale, which should be an exciting revelation of that giant, bug-eyed monster or at least a variation thereupon, is confusing, too long, and so utterly lacking in anything Cloverfield related that the movie should be ashamed of itself for assuming the title of its predecessor. Compared to the kinetic, engaging monster flick that bore it, 10 Cloverfield Lane is almost insufferably boring. Though critics lauded this film for its panic room themes and suspense, I can imagine fans being heartbroken by the lack of franchise continuity, entertaining set pieces, and TJ Miller (seriously, there is not a single laugh in 10 Cloverfield Lane. I feel a cameo by Miller could have changed that.)

That isn't to say the movie is a complete fiasco. Winstead, Goodman, and Gallagher are great in their roles: Winstead makes the most of her slightly waifish and poorly realized character by mimicking Signourey Weaver's performance in Aliens, Goodman adopts a heavy brow and the hunched stance of a serial killer with ease, and Gallagher imbues his superfluous character with enough humor and corn-fed innocence to make him at least somewhat memorable. The cinematography is great and the two pop songs sampled in the film contrast the violence onscreen beautifully. However, none of this is quite enough to redeem this mess of a film. Perhaps there are some sequels that should stay confined to forums and chat rooms--or maybe movies need to have a window of time in which a sequel should be made. In 10 Cloverfield Lane's case, it was well within the window of time: it just never should have seen the light of day.

10 Cloverfield Lane puts used car dealers to shame on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source material. I actually saw this on in the theater (regrets!) and I don't remember the finale looking as dark as it does here. I get that we are looking at the contrasts in locations, but the darkness is notable here. In the lighter shots, the colors look very good. The depth is fine and the image is never soft. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Many of the scenes in the bunker rely on the well-mixed sound, as we can hear noises coming from other rooms, and when someone is coming to Michelle's room. These sounds are nicely detailed and show good separation. The subwoofer works well in various scenes.

The 10 Cloverfield Lane Blu-ray Disc contains a small variety of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Dan Trachtenberg and Producer J.J. Abrams. The Disc offers seven featurettes which have a total running time of about 35 minutes. Combined, these offer an in-depth look at the making of the film, offering on-set footage and comments from the cast and crew. Abrams does address the Cloverfield connection, basically acknowledging that this is not a sequel, but that his goal is to present a series of movies which have similar stories. Yeh, that's still misleading the audience. Did we learn nothing from Halloween III?

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long