Tuesday, January 17, 2017

King Ralph

One of the problems that arise when a person puts him or herself in a place of absolute authority is that they might feel comfortable obscuring some facts while recontextualising others to make people comply when they otherwise wouldn't. This isn't necessarily done by a ruler to trick or harm a subject, more often it's because the ruler believes he or she is aware of a greater truth the subject is unable to see or appreciate. This model is carried out in small form in 2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane, a very effective psychological suspense film that derails in an unsatisfying way at the end. Fortunately this doesn't diminish the quality of the rest of the film.

A young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is driving alone one night when a sudden collision with another car knocks her unconscious. She wakes up in her underwear, chained to a wall in what looks like a basement.

The man responsible for bringing her here is Howard (John Goodman), whom she naturally assumes plans to rape and/or murder her. There's a lot of struggle before Michelle starts to believe Howard's brought her and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) into his underground bunker for good reason--some kind of massive chemical or nuclear disaster.

Before you start thinking Michelle sounds pretty gullible, she doesn't come around until she's on the point of escaping and sees a woman outside with bad chemical burns trying to get inside. So Michelle, reluctantly at first, and then with a growing sense of comfort, becomes a part of the little three person family.

But just because Howard's right about the disaster outside, does that really mean he's a safe person to be around? Why did he think it was reasonable to chain Michelle to the wall, for one thing? Then the question becomes, is Howard a guy who means well but is uncommonly immature, perhaps with mental problems, or is he someone much more dangerous?

I won't spoil for you whether or not he turns out to be the villain because that's one of the nicely challenging things about this film. Regardless of how dangerous he might be, the film demonstrates, in no small part because of a great performance by John Goodman, the danger in having one man with a monopoly on all the information.

Howard thinks he knows better than everyone else and is completely unable or unwilling to question himself. He's actually not unlike John Goodman's character Walter from The Big Lebowski taken to a more frightening level. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also very good as someone trying to navigate her new reality based on tiny slivers of information and faced with the responsibility of deciding whether or not to take drastic action.

The end of the film hastily introduces an entirely new plot in which one monster encounter is solved in, to put it lightly, an improbable way. I guess this was there to satisfy anyone coming to the movie looking for a sequel to Cloverfield, though considering the two films are firmly established as taking place in different universes, it winds up being unsatisfying in that regard anyway. Fortunately this is only a very small part of the film.

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