Megan Griffiths delivers a powerful, subtle gut punch to America's blind military worship with SADIE.
10 Cloverfield Lane. 2016. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Screenplay by Josh Campbell, Damien Chazelle, & Matthew Stuecken.
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr, Douglas M. Griffin, Suzanne Cryer, Bradley Cooper, Sumalee Montano, & Frank Mottek. Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot/Spectrum Effects.
Rated 14A. 103 minutes.
I was never a fan of Cloverfield. The movie never reeled me in enough to be effective. By the end I was just glad the thing had finished. At the same time, there were some elements I did enjoy. It was all very mysterious. To my surprise, J.J. Abrams came out awhile back and revealed they’d secretly worked on this little same-universe flick parallel to the original 2008 film. That alone intrigued me, the secretive nature of its production. Then there’s the fact Damien Chazelle had a part in writing it, first time feature for director Dan Trachtenberg. Plus they went and got three great actors – John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr – to help make the entire thing even more exciting. And it’s the mystery again, even more so, that makes the film compelling.
This is a great slow burn. Even without Cloverfield so obviously looming over everything, this could stand on its own. At the same time, the fact we know about what’s been happening because of that first movie adds a special ingredient to make the tension and the suspense, all that mystery so distressing.
For all intents and purposes, 10 Cloverfield Lane could be performed as a stage play, confining all its wonderful character development and mysterious plot elements into the suffocating location of a survivalist’s bunker. Further than that, the writing takes you from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, never failing to evoke paranoia.
One thing’s for certain, you’ll find even as the plot burns slow the excitement never ceases.
The writing is great here. Especially the film’s dialogue, which is both endearing and at times bitingly comic (“And I know I seem like a sensible guy, but at the time I wasn‘t myself“). As a fellow writer, I’ve always found it tough to write genuine dialogue because you almost want to hear the conversation aloud yourself. But the screenplay here is natural, for such an unnatural situation and series of events. That’s part of its strength. In making the characters feel so incredibly real, so vivid, the screenwriters – Chazelle alongside Joseph Campbell and Matthew Stuecken – allow this mysterious story come across authentic. No matter if your film’s story is science fiction or even fantasy, the plausibility of its premise and the resulting situations in which you put the characters works if those characters feel like real people.
One of my favourite moments is when they’re playing the game together – the whole Santa Claus bit was super clever and all around well-written/acted. A perfect little scene that reveals so much in a bold, creepy way.
In addition, the plot’s mysterious structure in the first half shifts heading into the second, which brings out an even more interesting dynamic between the characters. All of a sudden the entire thing has changed. As a fan of Psycho and the classic shifting screenplay, as I call it, this is something I enjoy; when a movie can start out headed in one direction seemingly then navigate a whole new course, or a couple new courses, before the end of the line. The whole movie is one tense and consistently surprising ride.
The well-written script is aided by the fantastic performances. Goodman is someone I’ve loved a long time, his talent is tremendous. His character is complex, and we make it almost to the halfway point before figuring out whether or not the man is genuine, or if he’s a terrifying psychopath. And it’s not just the writing, Goodman brings across that friendly quality while also still capable of being menacing. Then there’s Winstead, whose chemistry with Goodman makes for a tense relationship between characters. She is a talented actor I first noticed significantly in 2014’s knockout indie Faults opposite Leland Orser. She has that sort of girl next door appeal, she also plays a strong female character, so having her between the other two (male) leads is perfect. And Gallagher is a nice third party to Goodman and Winstead. Likewise, he has a boy next door charm. He’s enthusiastic in every role, even when playing a murderer. Here he’s no murderer, just another confused soul left behind in the aftermath of some major event, a man trying to go along to get along. Once the plot shifts a little and we figure more things out, his character is fun. His acting talents get the chance to shine, here and there.
Bear McCreary is one talented son of a bitch. Everyone now knows him for his excellent work on The Walking Dead. I first heard his music in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, funny enough. But his talents extend into a ton of different places, such as the new A&E show Damien I’ve been digging, among a ton of other stuff. He does some very classic, eerie sounding horror-mystery stuff. It’s never derivative, and that’s most likely why McCreary has experienced a massive influx of work over the past few years. He gives us stuff that sounds and feels familiar yet has his own indelible sound, as well. On top of the score, there’s a nice soundtrack including Tommy James and The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”, in such an ironic little montage that it’ll make you smile wide.
Trachtenberg does a swell job directing this film. He keeps everything tight and claustrophobic, even more so than just the location. A lot of his shots inside that bunker are fun, unique, and help push the whole story along. This is a 4&1/2-star film for me. It is entirely a wonderful experience. With the background of 2008’s Cloverfield, this story soars in an entirely unexpected way. Parallel to the events of that film this smaller, more personal drama unfolds with plenty of mystery and a steady dose of horror nearing the finale. Not only that, the plot shifts several times to keep the audience guessing, and you can never be totally sure what’s coming next.
I’d love to see another spin-off in the same timeframe as Cloverfield, which has the potential to go anywhere after this awesome little movie shows us there isn’t only one way to envision the possible end of the Earth as we know it.
Hush. 2016. Directed by Mike Flanagan. Screenplay by Flanagan & Kate Siegel.
Starring John Gallagher Jr, Kate Siegel, Michael Trucco, Samantha Sloyan, & Emma Graves. Intrepid Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
I’m unabashedly a fan of Mike Flanagan. While a lot of people were blown away by his horror Oculus, as well as the short film which preceded it, my favourite of his work has been the smaller, even more independent feature Absentia – a story of grief, loss, tragedy, and ghosts. Flanagan is capable of capturing terror in a way that doesn’t necessarily require the typical jump scares or other cliches expected from the horror genre. Not saying he doesn’t go for them now and then. Rather, he doesn’t rely on it as a technique to gain him the audience’s terror.
So, once Hush came along – premiering worldwide today on Netflix – the premise alone guarantees there’ll be a few interesting tweaks to the horror sub-genre of home invasion. What might, at the hands of a lesser director, be a generically tedious slasher-like horror becomes a nicely crafted work of tension and suspense that delivers more than just creeps around the corner and a few mild frights. A quiet, unnerving piece of cinema, Hush is another proper notch on the terrifying belt of Flanagan.
Living in a house in the woods, Maddie (Kate Siegel) – a deaf woman – spends her days in virtual isolation. Although, she does have friends nearby who check on her, come to visit, as well as read her work, as she is a budding author.
But one evening, as the sun starts to go down, she finds herself being stalked by a masked man (John Gallagher Jr). Once things take a turn for the worse and the man unmasks himself, Maddie realizes there may only be one way out: kill, or be killed. As the night progresses, she has to fight for her life if making it out alive will ever be an option.
Will Maddie’s deafness spell her murder? Or will she defend herself and her home from the unknown assailant?
Dig the way Flanagan gives us the inner world of Maddie. Early on, she writes in her novel and her inner voice rattles through variant sentences, different thoughts, et cetera. So there’s this incredible effect of her being deaf, though, still being able to hear her own voice in her head. And that’s juxtaposed with the fact things can happen around her without being noticed. Quickly after we watch her writing the novel, a masked man kills her friend right outside, banging her against the doors. Immediately, we’re setup with the premise, all it entails. Going forward, Flanagan uses all this in order to play on our emotions, to set up tense situations, and to draw out every bit of suspense possible.
What’s even more interesting is how Flanagan and star Siegel, also co-writer and life partner to the director, have crafted 80-odd minutes of film, only about 15 of which actually has any dialogue. So around 70 minutes of Hush goes by with the natural sounds of Maddie breathing, moving around the house, as the man stalking her is silent most of the time, too. To create an atmosphere of palpable dread, and also uncertainty, out of a film that spends so much time in quietude, Flanagan really does get to show off his chops. Above the horror and thriller elements, this home invasion flick tries to give us a central character whose trajectory is not solely defined by helplessness. Yes, Maddie is helpless in that she’s both deaf and lives in an isolated area. Although that does not define who she comes to be over the course of the film. In fact, she’s actually defined by her power, the fact she actively fights back and takes a proactive role in her own defense. Despite her disability, Maddie does not fail herself, she doesn’t make a ton of idiotic decisions like so many “Final Girls” and other similar characters typical of the horror genre. There’s no reinvented wheel here. Simply, Flanagan and Siegel aim to try and do something different, unusual with a cliche home invasion sub-genre setup.
In part, the sound design is a major aspect to the film’s mood. Obviously in a story that centers on a deaf woman there’s going to be some type of effort on part of the director to bring us into her world. For instance, right off the bat Maddie is cooking – the audience hears everything loud, boisterous, the water bubbling, the garlic getting crushed, vegetables chopped. The sound design is heavy and almost abrasive. Then quickly, Flanagan takes us inside Maddie’s brain. The room becomes silent, airtight, not a single sound escapes. Frequently, we’re taken back into her head, as a space that sort of closes us off from the sound design. Even then, we hear the dull thump of sounds around her, the slight sounds in the environment, though, she hears absolutely nothing. This does heighten the suspense and tension. Then when a scene comes where there’s dialogue, it almost feels foreign, and the entire time you’re feeling unnerved, uneasy about what may happen. There comes a point the audience is almost more comfortable in the silence than they are with normal sounds. Furthermore, Maddie speaks to herself, in her head. So because of the amount of time we’re treated to what’s happening inside her mind, Maddie’s perspective feels like our own. This could be accomplished just by spending the entire film with her. At the same time, allowing us access to her inner sanctum, while also getting the perspective outside her head, this really cements the feeling as a first-person perspective that sometimes allows us third-person insight.
What could have easily been typical, drawn out, boring, becomes exciting material at the hands of director Mike Flanagan. Along with Kate Siegel, both star and writer, this story evolves into a nice treat for fans of the horror genre, as well as the home invasion sub-genre. Absolutely, Hush is a 4-star affair. Flanagan knows how to work with dread. Here, he allows us over 80 minutes to become emotionally attached to Maddie, to understand her, and mostly, root for her survival. With perfect sound design, a very fun score by The Newton Brothers, plus a knockout performance from Siegel and John Gallagher Jr giving us his ghoulish best as the man after her, Hush is jam packed with enjoyable, nail-biting moments.
Available as of today on Netflix, you really should check this out and see what it has to offer. Here’s to hoping Flanagan keeps making more solid horror movies, and that his adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game actually comes to life, because this setup was a great way to start exploring some of the techniques which might be useful in filming that.