10 Cloverfield Lane

Every year one or two critic-friendly horrors come down the pike, which critics deign worthy of think-pieces and drench with (over) praise. In 2017, it was Get Out, and in 2016, it was 10 Cloverfield Lane, one of those “oh my, I’ve woken up and I don’t know the circumstances of how I got here,” kinds of horrors, a conceit that has built-in narrative steam that can power a film at least a third of the way through at least.

Here, it’s Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Scott Pilgrim vs the World), who gets into a car accident in Louisiana and finds herself in a basement chained to a wall. For someone who’s been through that much trauma, she’s still (unbelievably) central casting pretty, bangs hanging just so, and as she reaches for her cellphone with her crutches, her lean trim body distracts from the plot.

Her appearance is a byproduct of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s slickness, a JJ Abrams co-production which could actually have benefited from a lower budget, considering it takes place in a subterranean bunker built by ex-Navy man, Howard (an incredible turn by John Goodman). Michelle finds she’s with a co-captive, John, a forgettable Tom Green-alike and together they’re informed by their captor, that he’s really their savior — that the external milieu has been poisoned by some kind of nuclear attack and that they’re stuck underground, indefinitely. Is he telling the truth? Or is he bonkers?

This is a dynamite idea.

However, the film’s pulled in so many different directions, none of which wields enough force* to consistently generate scares. Is it a Cold War throwback? An alien attack flick? A cloistered claustrophobic horror?

Director Dan Trachtenberg gamely keeps the audience guessing, but when the inevitable happens and the captured duo consider their options, it doesn’t generate the impact it might’ve.

[*Editors’ note: And as an aside, we’re sorta sick of how quickly film characters recover from a beer bottle to the head. That friggin’ hurts. It’s not the kind of thing that can be brushed off while you continue doing what you’re doing, especially swung with the force of Sammy Sosa in his steroid-abusing prime]

*** (out of 5)





When a medical simulation dummy becomes a surrogate father figure (wait, what?)…well, let’s just say you’re in for some serious weirdness. Pin, aka, Pin: A Plastic Nightmare is one of the more underrated (and as is often the case, under-seen) horrors from the 1980s, an era dominated by oblivious campers, clandestine romps, and masked assailants (not that there’s anything wrong with that. Slashers can be beautiful).

Pin is such a marked departure from…pretty much everything, that it is much-see material regardless of epoch. It’s even a kind of spiritual cousin to Cronenberg’s early tax shelter films (and like Rabid, Pin was filmed in Montreal).

And similar to Burnt Offerings or The Sentinel, director Sandor Stern lures viewers into Pin’s world through a gable window as neighborhood kids speculate as to who/what it is that’s gazing down on them from above.

Creepy stuff out of the gate.

Creepier still, taskmaster doc, Linden, teaches his two kids Ursula and Leon about the birds and the bees, through the eponymous mannequin (“Pin,” short form of Pinocchio) and hair-raising ventriloquism. But this is a film that both throws voices, and viewers for a loop, as when Linden and the kids’ mother is claimed in a car accident, fatherly duties go to the man made of plastic.

Like other films of the era, there’s childhood trauma involving sex. In this case, it’s Leon witnessing one of his father’s nurses, getting it on with the singular expression mannequin in his pops’ office. When his younger sister comes of age sexually, a mentally deteriorating Leon controls her “needs” to the best of his abilities, solo and through Pin.

Some reviewers have pointed out the near-inevitable similarities to Psycho; however the Freudian subtext is anted up in Pin.

And speaking of psychology, a New York Times reviewer pointed out, “Although the viewer can never be fully sure, it seems as though his blank, receptive facial expression is even capable of slight changes…” It’s almost like the “auto-kinetic effect” in visual perception studies, whereby viewers in a totally dark room, perceive a stationary dot on the wall, as moving. In the case of Pin, the brain “fills in” what would normally be a face with all its human expression.

*** 1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of Pin on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]