I honestly don’t know where to begin with 10 Cloverfield Lane. Much like the characters in the film itself, audiences were blindsided back in January when the first trailer came out. Not only was the films’ existence so well hidden, but that it would come out only 2 months after its reveal was something unheard of. But even without this clever marketing ploy, 10 Cloverfield Lane is far from what audiences expect, and is one of the few films worth going into completely blind.
What has been revealed about the plot sees our main character Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) brought into an underground bunker after her car crashes. Inside the bunker, a man named Howard (John Goodman) tells Michelle that something happened outside, and they must stay inside the bunker to remain safe. From there, Michelle and another person inside the bunker named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) must try to figure out what exactly happened, and whether Howard is someone they can trust, or even if he is as dangerous as what may be outside.
If my description sounds vague, that’s very much been done on purpose. The marketing behind 10 Cloverfield Lane has carefully kept the veil in front of the films’ most surprising moments, with most of the clips in ads only featuring parts from the films opening minutes. As the film is dependent on the unpredictable nature of the plot, this helps prevent anyone from guessing the films outcome. 10 Cloverfield Lane is most similar to a Hitchcock film in this respect, as audiences are left wondering what is really happening throughout the film, and even keeps you guessing long after the credits start rolling.
What you do need to know going into the film is that this is an almost 180 degree turn from what the original Cloverfield was. Since the films announcement, the director has referred to 10 Cloverfield Lane as only a “blood relative” to the first film, and extinguished any claims that this is a sequel. Gone is the point of view camera, now replaced with a more traditional film style, and the shock and horror from Cloverfield has now been traded for tension between our 3 main characters. The emphasis is smartly placed on the unpredictable nature of Goodman’s Howard, making even the calmest scenes leaving audiences curled up in anticipation for when things go wrong. This approach especially helps the third act, where the veil is finally lifted on what is really happening, and all the set ups from previous scenes begin to pay off.
As with any bottle film, or a film that is set entirely in one place, a lot of work is placed on the actors, all of which deliver memorable performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives the character of Michelle a lot of range in each scene, switching between vulnerable and empowered depending on what’s happening. Unlike other films with women in the lead roles, Michelle never feels incompetent enough to get herself in over her head, but also isn’t overpowered to make some sort of statement. Winstead also proves her mettle as a visual performer, with many scenes relying on her facial queues and body movements alone, adding to the tension and believability of the events in the film.
John Gallagher Jr. does a good job with making Emmett believable as well. While he may be forced into the comedic relief role a bit too often, the interplay between Gallagher Jr. and Winstead keeps Emmett from feeling like a useless third party between our other two main characters. Speaking of which, the less I say about John Goodman’s Howard, the better. What I can say is that Goodman once again shows us why he is one of the most important actors of our time, often playing roles that go against his expected type, and Howard is no exception. At a certain point in the film, Audience members are likely to forget what horrors may await our characters outside the bunker, and focus squarely in on the imposing threat that Goodman’s character is, and that’s entirely thanks to his performance. Much like everything else in the film, Howard is not what he seems, and the pulling back on this idea brings about the film’s tensest moments, as well as a role from Goodman that many may have a hard time removing from the actor himself.
While I do love this film, the unveiling of what is really happening brings the films lone problem, and for some it may be a major one. Without giving anything away, when what’s going on is revealed, the answers may not be to everyone’s’ liking. While I was among the crowd that did appreciate the ending reveal, its inclusion is jarring to say the least. This doesn’t halt the momentum of the film, but it blindsides audiences in a way that could have perhaps been handled better. Keep in mind, however, that this part of the film is really the last 10 or so minutes, and while it may bring the film down slightly for some, it doesn’t detract from the many high notes the movie manages to achieve overall.
10 Cloverfield Lane offers a fantastic thriller that Hollywood hasn’t delivered in a long time. While first time director Dan Trachtenberg could have simply rehashed or continued the ideas and themes of the original Cloverfield, the film instead manages to go in the opposite direction and forges an identity all to its own. What will come from this strange experiment is still to be seen, but for now 10 Cloverfield Lane embraces its idea hiding its big ideas, and rewards audience members who manage to stay blind to the film before they enter the theater.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 8.5 John Goodman Scares Out of 10