10 Cloverfield Lane (Trachtenberg, 2016)

Contained in a claustrophobic bunker for much of its running time, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an exercise in scouting out trust. It places us in the precarious position of seeking the truth when the data is removed from our grasp, our analysis utterly reliant on the words and actions of someone whose motivations are never clear. This is where it really works. Its ability to freely withhold the facts, then string them out to us piece by piece, ensures that the film never lets us fall into a false sense of security. The only disadvantage to this method is that, once you intuit it, you can kind of sense where it’s taking you next. But even then, it doesn’t entirely prepare you for the denouement, which somehow acts as both confirmation and denial of everything that precedes it.

Since this is a film directly tied to Cloverfield, though, I think you can ferret out the events of the denouement without having to think too hard about it. And in a way, I kind of wish it wasn’t that easy. There’s something daring and defiant about the first two-thirds, with all the mind games and unexpected turns. The film should have followed through right up to the final minute, taking our gullibility to task, or refusing to indulge in wish fulfillment. Instead, it’s obliged to weave itself into a greater franchise, ticking off all the necessary boxes of a spiritual sequel so that a third film can further build up the narrative. For me, it doesn’t gel. Those last twenty or so minutes feel tugged in from a different film, and it’s not incorporated well enough to seem justified. It’s as if the screenwriters suddenly remembered they were writing a Cloverfield film, and tacked on that ending after they put all their effort into the bunker plot.

If one dismisses the last act, the film is a very, very good piece of psychological pestering. It’s a little cruel, a little treacherous. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman are so game to make it work, and they do. I only wish the film stayed in their hands, rather than shifting briefly to a slick spectacle that doesn’t represent its heart or texture. That’s the sticking point for me.