Quick apology from me before she begins: I have just been awful at getting to the movies lately, for a whole variety of reasons. Also, I’m really glad she vetted this one for me because I would not have wanted to go alone but nobody in my proximal location for going together would have wanted to go and also it… well. I’ll let her explain.
This movie is an interesting one: it’s a movie you should know as little as possible about going in, but it’s the kind of movie that could be really upsetting if you don’t know anything going in. So I’ll try to be as vague as possible, but I will say that this movie does suspense amazingly well. I read the Wikipedia plot summary a couple of weeks before seeing it, so I knew basically what was going to happen, and I was still on the edge of my seat the whole time. The movie does a lot with chase sequences, but it also does a lot with quiet moments, building the tension nicely. So if that’s something that’s going to aggravate your anxiety or something, probably find a summary so you’ll know what’s coming and hopefully that will take the edge off. Another note: much of the tension is centered around impending violence and male anger. One of the male characters has a temper and frequently flies into a rage at the smallest provocation. I could see this being extremely triggery to someone who has been in that kind of abusive relationship. I wouldn’t say it’s an overly violent movie, but some scenes involve detailed gore and quick shots of mutilated bodies (human and pig). Again, you may want to look up spoilers, or avoid altogether if it might be too much for you (it’s a shame if you’d have to, but better to keep yourself safe).
Now to the movie itself. The premise is this: Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) flees her apartment after having an argument with her fiance, only to get into a terrible accident. She wakes up disoriented, chained to a wall, and with an injured leg. The only person she sees is Howard (John Goodman), who at first refuses to explain what is going on. As far as she knows, she is trapped in a cellar with no help and no one who knows her location. As she begins to earn Howard’s trust, she uncovers a terrible mystery about just what led her to this cellar and what Howard’s true intentions are.
As I said, this is a suspense movie, and it’s really the music and performances that carry it. There are only about five characters in the whole film, two of which barely appear, and the three leads (Winstead, Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.) are working in a handful of locations. Goodman is absolutely terrifying, and Winstead deserves awards for playing a realistic, likeable protagonist in a horror/suspense film. Gallagher Jr. isn’t given a lot to work with in comparison, but he’s charming and funny and brings a lot of much-needed levity. Bear McCreary, my favorite composer, provides a soundtrack that builds delicious excitement in a way that isn’t distracting or overbearing. It’s the kind of movie that makes you marvel at filmmaking as a medium in a different way than a well-made blockbuster might. It’s so simple, so elegant, that it’s a bit of a miracle that it was made at all.
Of course, here is my single problem with the film. It was originally not a Cloverfield tie-in at all, as a script called The Cellar, but there were concerns from the studio that the lack of recognizable name might make the film difficult to market. So in the last fifteen minutes or so…well, I haven’t seen Cloverfield and don’t plan on it, but let’s just say the film abruptly changes genre in these final scenes. I’m not so sure this was the best way to connect it to Cloverfield, since these final scenes, while engaging, don’t seem to fit in with the emotional journey of the movie. I found myself thinking, as I watched them, “can’t this poor girl catch a damn break?” That being said, if Fox is bound and determined to keep releasing Alien sequels, I nominate Winstead as a far worthier successor for Ripley than Noomi Rapace.
But even these shaky final scenes weren’t enough to ruin the film for me, just sour it a little. It was still a gripping and well-made suspense film, and it’s a tragedy that it will probably get overlooked come awards season.