Film Review: '10 Cloverfield Lane'
It's not often that two moves within the same series differ so greatly in visual style, yet retain the same amount of harrowing intrigue between them. In this case, it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, a suspenseful thriller set, as the name implies, in the alien-invaded Earth of the viral hit Cloverfield. Neither a prequel nor sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a worthy and riveting parallel entry - or blood relative, as producer J.J. Abrams calls it – to its mother film. Likewise, Abrams' mystery box philosophy has definitely carried over to director Dan Trachtenberg, who makes his feature directorial debut here.
The film's key difference from its 2008 cousin is in swapping out the found-footage style that made Cloverfield a success in favor of a more traditional setup, yet the new film does justice to the at-first ambiguous terrors of the original film. What makes this film particularly memorable, however, is in taking place nearly entirely in a bomb shelter, underneath a home on an inconspicuous farm in Louisiana.
We are taken here because of twenty-something aspiring fashion designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who flees her New Orleans apartment after a phone argument with her fiancé Ben (voiced by Bradley Cooper). In her distress, she gets into a car accident, and her overturning car knocks her out cold. She then wakes up in a chamber of said bomb shelter, housed and cared for by a benevolent, yet creepy big man Howard (John Goodman, who transforms into a hauntingly volatile captor). Howard cites a suspected apocalyptic chemical attack - or, hell, aliens - as the reason for taking her in. The shelter, which has been spruced up with a kitchen, dining table, living room, and even a TV set with an enviable DVD collection, is a cozy and safe offering. But Michelle undoubtedly has some very unsettling company in Howard; at least she finds some alleviation in fellow shelter mate Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a young and handsome guy whose arm sits in a sling.
The chemical apocalypse explanation is difficult for Michelle to believe, who constantly pleads and struggles to take a peek at the outside world and see things for herself. If you’re familiar with Cloverfield, you know how bad things are outside. But which is preferable for Michelle: the so-called chemical attack, or the suspicious, weird, and frankly disquieting presence of Howard, who harbors his own deadly secrets?
They key word here is mystery – a term that defines the success of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the body of work of Abrams as a whole. There’s mystery as to exactly what may be happening outside the bunker; only the occasional sound of a car or what seems like a helicopter overhead. There’s mystery to Howard’s words, whose explanation of the outdoor events is highly subject to skepticism. And because of that, Howard’s intentions come into question, especially because the man’s actions speak kindness while his words and attitude speak sociopathy. Safe to say that Michelle is in a hell of a tight spot – and so are we. 10 Cloverfield Lane is disquieting and thrilling to the point of stress..
Howard is so disgustingly creepy because of Goodman’s melting into his character. He’s hot, then cold; calm, then irate. The man is a ticking time bomb whose mere presence in a scene is fear-inducing – a testament to Goodman bringing his very best work to the role. The performance has even earned the veteran actor some very early Oscar buzz, and while it’s early to tell, there’s no doubting that Goodman will at least garner some consideration down the line. On the other hand, in Winstead’s performance, we see the fear and doubt brewing in her eyes as she attempts to adjust to a life she never anticipated, and relating to her peril is as effortless as it could be.
The mystery and suspense is especially enhanced with a brooding score that grows loud and soft, slow and fast, as if the movie thumps to the beat of Howard's pulse. Even the picture editing cuts accordingly; the film is a sharply-edited piece of work that enhances the story’s limited physical space. It has the additional benefit of keeping the story interesting while mostly taking place within a very small physical space which, admittedly, is difficult to do. Likewise, the performances of Goodman, Winstead, and Gallagher Jr. are made even better with the power of the film's editing. This relatively small-time show is an incredible supplement to the world that Abrams crafted up in Cloverfield and a great segway into what might be a Cloverfield anthology.
The word "classic" doesn't quite come to mind for 10 Cloverfield Lane, but it garners a legacy down the line, it'll be a wonderful case study for trademark cinematic suspense.
Rated PG-13. 103 minutes.
Written by Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg.
Starring John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.