Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
It is difficult to review this movie because the best way to experience it is to go in completely bind. Watching the trailer is fine, but it is very misleading about certain parts of the film. I will do my best to not give away too much. I do want to tell you when you go and see this film (and you should because it is a really good mystery thriller) you should ignore the Cloverfield part of the title. In other words, this is not a sequel to the 2008 surprise hit Cloverfield. It’s kinda, sort of not a sequel. It is hard to explain.
The film begins with Michelle (Winstead) frantically packing up her things and hopping in her car to head who knows where. On her journey we see Ben calling her phone, begging her to talk to him and not to run away after having an argument. “Couples fight all of the time” he pleads. Before Michelle can have a change of heart or tell Ben it is over for good, she is run off the road by a reckless driver and knocked unconscious. When she comes to she is in a concrete room and chained to a pipe. Howard (Goodman), her courteous host, found Michelle on the side of the road and brought her to his underground survival shelter. He explains there was an attack. Everyone on the outside is dead and the air has been rendered unbreathable. They will have to survive in the shelter for a year, maybe two, while things “blow over.” Michelle is to obey Howard’s rules and be grateful he showed mercy on her when he didn’t have to.
It is pretty evident Howard is not telling the whole truth and is very much a conspiracy nutter who thinks it could have been the Russians, Al Qaeda, or Martians that attacked us. The rub of the situation is the attack was also witness by Emmett (Gallagher), Howard’s neighbor who is, by all means, a completely normal person. Emmett was hired by Howard to build parts of the bunker and when the attack first started happening, he fought his way in. Things maybe going to hell in a handbasket outside, but the heart of the film is the relationship formed between three people when one of them is hiding so many secrets. Even from there it becomes more twisty and turny.
Trachtenberg makes his directorial debut with 10 Cloverfield Lane and it is a solid effort out of the gate. His style couldn’t be more different than J.J Abrams’ whose name is all over the promotional material. No shaky found-footage camerawork, distracting lens flairs, and epic wide shots of action. He keeps the majority of the film in the tiny space of the bunker and slowly pushes each shot closer and closer to Winstead’s Michelle making her feel more and more suffocated by her captor/savior. The only real misstep is final moments which leaves you wondering “what in the hell?” Of course the ending isn’t Trachtenberg’s fault and he still succeeds in making it work sending you right back into the action (after the shock of a crazy reveal wears off) and putting your butt back at the edge of your seat.
All three leads sell this dark and twisted movie, Goodman especially. Winstead carries the emotional weight of the film, she is the person we empathize with as we witness her struggle to figure out if she is safe with these men or not. Michelle easily shifts from fighter to helpless and cooperative then back again, keeping Howard off balance and trusting of her all while you can see the gears of her next plan working in her head. Goodman makes sure the emotional weight is there for Winsted to endure. Howard is highly intelligent, but not always with it. At times he can be charming, but on a dime he becomes controlling and cold. Gallagher allows for some comedic moments that help to keep the tone from becoming too one note, but he at times helps to shoulder some of the emotional burden. Emmett could have been just an obnoxious neighbor who doesn’t know how to deal with silence and is clumsy in a space that cannot afford for accidents to happen, but he is also a kid with regrets trying to pass them off as a blessing. If he had followed his original path, then he wouldn’t be in the bunker and alive. Even though the effects are loud or the music becomes intense, Goodman, Winstead, and Gallagher’s performances are quiet and subtle, keeping you on the edge wondering what is coming around the corner next.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a well-made and suspenseful monster movie that will have you leaving the theater unnerved. Even though this is being marketed as sort of sequel, it may be one of the more original thrillers to hit theaters in a long while.
4 out of 5 Stars