It’s hard to write about 10 Cloverfield Lane with out treading into spoiler territory. Just like its titular predecessor, it’s a film that thrives on secrecy, on the unknown, the “mystery box” now associated with every J.J. Abrams endeavor. It succeeds at both keeping the audience guessing and rewarding those willing to wait. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a taut thriller which combines the claustrophobic psychological tension of a Hitchcock thriller with the tone of a popcorn action flick. And this genre mashup totally worked for me.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Michelle, a woman who runs from trouble. In a fight or flight situation, she chooses the latter. She’s fleeing in her car from her finance due to a relational spat, when she experiences a terrible accident and awakens in an underground bunker. Her leg cuffed to a pipe in the concrete room. It’s unclear if she’s a prisoner or a guest, and this ambiguity only remains as she comes to know her roommates. Her captor/savior is Howard, played by John Goodman with the perfect amount of nervous awkwardness which makes every scene he’s in unsettling. Howard clearly is paranoid–he made a self-sufficient bunker in preparation for the end of the world!–but he’s just stable enough to keep one guessing at his motives. The other bunker-dweller is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a sweet-hearted, simple-minded country guy who somehow knew Howard before all this happened.
The “this,” Howard explains, is simple: there’s been an attack of some sort, and the fallout from this attack has polluted the air outside. Everyone is dead. No one comes in the bunker, and no one leaves. Michelle is skeptical, and so are we as the audience. Is Howard telling the truth? What’s actually going on out there? No one can say for sure. And thus lies the strength of 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film which divulges its cards slowly, one by one, delighting in the tension it creates in making us way for the final reveal. It doesn’t use long exposition to explain plot mechanics; it simply presents these particular three characters in this extraordinary situation, and shows us what happens. It’s thrilling and unique, perfectly holding the line between action/thriller and a cerebral chamber drama. When the film does finally reveal all its cards, it’s a satisfying adrenaline rush.
Every actor does a phenomenal job with the roles they’ve been given, and Winstead and Goodman are particularly excellent here. Michelle elicits sympathy right from the start, with an opening shot of her apartment and a tearful conversation we only see, but never hear. She’s clearly fragile and vulnerable, but there’s a strength about her too, a pragmatic gumption. She’s a fashion designer by trade, but she’s got a bit of Alien‘s Ripley in her. Goodman is also exceptional here, channeling past roles from Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski, only with a bit more sadness about him, a tiredness behind his eyes. Howard is much more subtle and less ridiculous than Walter Sobchak, but they’re cut from the same cloth. Goodman is downright menacing; I wouldn’t want to be caught in a bunker with him like this. Gallagher is a quieter, simpler version of the role he played in Short Term 12, and he makes good use of his natural charm. Still, this is Winstead’s movie. Michelle is resourceful, smart, and daring, and I was rooting for her from the first minute until the credits rolled.
This film doesn’t employ the found footage technique of Cloverfield, and it isn’t really a sequel. I read somewhere that the original title didn’t use the term “Cloverfield” at all until relatively recently. I wonder if it would have been a stronger film for it. Audiences will be looking for the connection with the previous film, but 10 Cloverfield Lane could stand very well on its own, and a viewer might even have more fun having *not* seen Cloverfield. (Though I wonder if it would have sold as many tickets were it to use any other generic title. I doubt I would have been as excited to see it were it called “Bunker” or something similar.) The use of “Cloverfield” is a strength and a weakness here, and almost gives away the mystery. Take that for what it’s worth. Still, I want to explain something really important about the mystery of this film, so
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1179933/