Review Roundup - The Cellar

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)


There are some things here that shouldn't really work on the surface. A script repurposed to form a quasi-sequel to a found footage movie from 8 years ago is one of those things. So getting past the idea the name was slapped on to something to get people in cinemas is tricky, but the film we actually get is surprisingly entertaining in its own right. Instead of shaky infra red camera work and mysterious creatures, the story here is centred on far more human problems as a trio of people are trapped in a custom built shelter that may or may not be protecting them from a disaster above ground. It's more akin to Misery than you might be expecting, and personally a focus on people and small surroundings instead of visual effects is a far more interesting prospect than simply more destruction mayhem.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself in a bunker with Howard (John Goodman) who says he saved her after she crashed her car. However she isn't allowed to leave since he tells her that the world is contaminated by some sort of doomsday event that poisoned the air. He's only interested in survival and has planned for this sort of thing for years in advance. Of course she doesn't take his word for any of this, but they are not alone as she meets an acquaintance of his called Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) who thinks that Howard could be right. He wants to be here having helped with the shelter's construction at some time in the past. Whether his account of seeing an event taking place before running to find Howard can be believed is also questionable of course but he does seem a bit more rationally minded. The hints left by that title being applied may lead viewers to think in one direction over another, but the question of what really happened is always open as things progress.

The rest of the story plays out at a solid pace as Michelle tries to figure out if her new friend is a captor or saviour, with the expected escape attempts and plot revelations making for an engaging time. The tiny location takes up much of the running time and it's utilised fairly well to create a claustrophobic atmosphere without feeling to much like a subterranean prison. There are supplies for things like water, food and air, while limited radio information is available to the tenants. As things play out little pieces of information regarding the situation start to appear but it's never exactly clear how much of what they see confirms Howard's theory and what kind of things he's been hiding from them. This balance means that things never become dull within this premise, something which is aided by the characters and the acting in general.

Howard insists that the sounds they can hear must be an invading force of some kind, thinking up the sort of action a foreign military might have taken and listening to see of the noise is coming from American vehicles or not. John Goodman's central performance holds the narrative together as he talks severely about secret weapons being dropped in one moment but lets out feelings about his past in others. His hardened survival outlook contrasts with the hints that he had a family somewhere who he now believes are lost. The pressure of the situation is kept at fairly high levels as his neighbours try to keep themselves together and figure him out without setting his temper off. Michelle and Emmett are less interesting characters as a result of all this, but they manage to be likeable all the same, and their resulting screen time allows for a fair division of sympathy and engrossing moments.

The climactic moments will divide audiences in ways that are understandable; after so much tension and mystery reveals there are certain elements that come along which feel a little out of place. In some ways they were inevitable, and in others they don't really take that much away from what makes the story as a whole work so well. There are certainly some aspects which could have been done with a little more tact of course, but most of the little set ups and pay offs are satisfying enough for me to allow a little stumble at the finish line. Some will see these closing scenes as the movie falling right on its face, but I don't think it detracts that much on overall. It's a fun, slow burning story at heart, which works in spite of any questionable attempts at hinting at a large franchise being hastily constructed.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
STAR TREK BEYOND (2016)


I was hoping that this could restore my enjoyment levels after the throwaway guilty pleasures of J.J. Abram's 2009 reboot and the compounded problems of its messy sequel, but the third instalment is simply more of the same despite the changes in writing and directing duties. Some reactions have been positive, citing a return to a feeling of older iterations of this series thanks to the script co-written by cast member Simon Pegg, however I can't share that sentiment. While it holds back on the plot reveals to some extent, the script is just another angry dude wearing a lot of alien make-up as he sets up a plan for revenge involving a big destructive gizmo and a lot of over acting.

The big swirling visual effects are still here feeling more incoherent than impressive, the doomsday weapon is present and correct, and the frenetic chases and swirling camera work flowing around fight choreography is nothing that they haven't done before. Some attempts are made to avoid the ensemble feeling like they are just being given something to do, but at times even this is just a series of box ticking moments before the motorcycle set pieces and gravity bending punch outs ensue. It's just as big and dumb as it ever was for the most part, and I can't give it more points just because the antagonist wants to blow up something smaller than a planet this time.

2/5