Author’s Note: There’s no real spoilers in this review, aside from character names and general story
The original Cloverfield, an “found footage” horror story introduced us to a new level of story telling. It certainly wasn’t the first one that I had seen–Blair Witch Project being the one that stands out in my mind–but it was definitely a bit more unique in the genre it was playing in–a Monster horror movie.
I dug the movie originally, but ultimately the jerky camera movement really killed its re-watch-ability and I don’t think I’ve seen it since the original theatrical run. There were murmurs of a Cloverfield 2 for a long time–but up until about three months ago even the writer of Cloverfield, Drew Goddard, denied that anything was going on.
So imagine my surprise when out of left field, a trailer gets dropped for 10 Cloverfield Lane. It was a brilliant move by Bad Robot films, who is famously secretive about all of their projects. Of course–this was a new bar of secrecy; literally no one knew about the film until that trailer dropped–not unlike how the original Cloverfield dropped with a teaser trailer and no name, just a release date.
I didn’t know much about the movie until I stepped foot in the movie theater other than it wasn’t a sequel to Cloverfield but a “blood relative” to it, and this was by design: I didn’t want to know any of the story. I had heard there was a lot of twists and turns and I wanted to experience the magic firsthand.
What I got was an engrossing experience from start to finish.
Our film begins and ends with our protagonist, Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She gets into a pretty bad car crash and is rescued by John Goodman’s Howard. She wakes up in Howard’s underground bunker and is told that there’s been a pretty bad attack outside and it’s no longer safe to leave. And our journey begins….
Dan Trachtenberg, the director of this film, first came onto the scene for his short films. His most popular one, Portal: No Escape, shows a woman who wakes up under similar circumstances as Michelle does. This early experience at weaving mystery and suspense into a short span of time has really paid off for 10 Cloverfield Lane as it’s just the right amount of tension through out–with healthy amounts of mystery mixed in.
You see, right from the outset, Michelle is mightily suspicious of Howard, and she has every right to be. The room she wakes up in is right out of a Saw movie, and Howard is really an unknown quantity. Michelle, however, is insanely clever and tries to escape before shit can go down.
I’ve dug Winstead since Scott Pilgrim but it’s in this film you really get to see some of the range and depth that she’s capable of. She plays Michelle as a straight player–a fully realized flesh and blood character who reacts appropriately. Imagine if you were dropped into the same situation as Michelle was and how you would react–especially after watching tons of horror flicks. I know that sounds really strange but in these type of thrillers–normally, the main character can seem kind of shallow and I really appreciated the depth that Winstead gives her.
Speaking of depth, John Goodman is a fucking powerhouse. He plays Howard with so many nuances that I was thoroughly impressed with his performance. People really don’t know how underrated Goodman is. He has moments where you can’t help feeling sorry for the guy, as he’s sweet and tender when he wants to be. And then there’s also the flip side where he just wants people to appreciate what he’s done for them, where he goes a bit mad. It’s crazy just how well Goodman can flip that switch between pleasant and creepy without batting an eye. Howard had just the right amount of craziness and heart that only John Goodman could provide.
The third player, Emmett, is the only other survivor that made it into the bunker before Howard shut the doors. He’s played by John Gallagher Jr, whom I’ve never heard of before this movie but I dug his performance. He’s a great foil for Michelle and Howard, and injects a bit of humor into the movie with his Good Ol’ Boy charms. I also like that he isn’t “Automatic Love Interest” for Michelle, as lots of movies in this genre are known to do.
Overall, the story seems simple enough at first glance, but it definitely has some layers to it that start to show as the movie wears on, layers that Trachtenberg dives into masterfully. There’s moments of harsh tension and calmer, sweeter moments before darkness sets in. It could have easily fallen apart, but somehow he strikes a nice balance between moving the plot along but not giving everything away until the very end.
And hot damn, that musical score really tied it all together. One of my favorite composers, Bear McCreary did this score and apparently graduated from Television work to Films overnight–as it should be, because his score for this movie really shined. The movie wouldn’t have felt as tense and mysterious without his touch.
There’s very few threads by the end of the movie that stay opened and unresolved, and that’s okay. I don’t like having every single mystery in a film be resolved–and it’s definitely the type of film where you’ll spend a long time wondering about the different subplots in the movie–and what the future holds. Also, the ending for the movie is fucking nuts–if you see it coming, I applaud your cleverness because I certainly did not.
Wrapping things up–10 Cloverfield Lane was a huge breath of fresh air. It was a great movie from start to finish, and one I had very few issues–if any–with. The performances were all great, the story just deep enough to keep you interested, and a hefty dose of suspense that pays off splendidly by the end of the movie. I loved it and I look forward to more from Trachtenberg in the future. I’m on the fence about wanting a sequel because I think this works really well as a one off–but I wouldn’t be opposed to it.
Go see it kids, you won’t regret it!