In 2008, on the back of some ingenious marketing Cloverfield became a hotly discussed movie that divided audience opinion. It’s rare for a film to be praised as revolutionary by some and make others literally physically ill. Fast forward eight years, and out of nowhere a trailer is released, announcing itself as a ‘blood relative’ to that movie titled 10 Cloverfield Lane. Nobody was really sure what that meant, but now that’s out there are two questions to be answered. How connected to the Cloverfield movie is it, and also: is it any good?
This is a movie that’s best viewed by going in blind. The less you know beforehand the more interesting it’ll be to watch as you begin to put together the pieces. That being said, prior knowledge, understanding or even enjoyment of the 2008 movie is completely unnecessary. More importantly, if the shaky cam of the first made you sick, you don’t need to worry here, this is shot normally.10 Cloverfield Lane is its own beast, and if you go in expecting much correlation between the two you’ll be disappointed. Whereas the first was about a group of survivors trying to make their way through a Monster attack of New York City, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a psychological thriller that exists almost exclusively across the space of a couple of rooms.
The story revolves around Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and after an incident wakes up chained in an unfamiliar room. Howard (John Goodman) claims to have saved her life by bringing her in, and claims that it’s unsafe for her to leave. Much of the story then follows Michelle as she tries to work out the truth alongside Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) who is the only other person in the bunker. Is Michelle a prisoner or a survivor?
This movie is all about the tension it can build up, and for the most part it works really well. John Goodman is incredibly creepy and unnerving in his role, and he plays the role so well that you’re constantly questioning his motives. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is great as the audience stand in character in what is her strongest performance yet. We see everything through her eyes, and during a lot of the tenser moments her facial reactions draw you into the moment. And unlike a lot of movies in the genre she’s a smart and capable protagonist. Emmett serves his role, but he’s not given quite as much character development as the other two, and while he’s important to the role he doesn’t really standout like you’d expect with such a small cast. The focus of the story is clearly on Howard and Michelle.
The drive for high tension does result in some clunky dialogue early on. It’s clear that certain writing choices were made in order to keep the audience in the dark that little bit longer, but even with an odd character like Howard, it felt like was written from a plot perspective rather than a character one. That said once the movie finds it’s groove, this fades away and results in some truly uncomfortable moments (in a good way). There’s some great combination work between the camera angles and the actors that result in some very effective moments. The movie also uses some break periods where the tension eases off and lets you get to know the characters. But even through these moments where you can breathe there’s still an underlying sense of dread. It’s a slow paced movie but thrillers aren’t meant to be quick, just interesting, and 10 Cloverfield Lane achieves this. You don’t feel like this is the work of a debut director, so praise has to be given to Dan Trachenberg in his first outing.
Throughout the film there are some moments of really well thought out foreshadowing. They’re not too in your face, but it’s obvious enough so the audience won’t be questioning the hows and whys. This, combined with the pursuit of the truth and understanding means you’re constantly paying attention to little details which might help you put the pieces together, but don’t expect to leave the cinemas with all the answers. Small directorial choices help to put their viewer in a state on unease, and keeping the setting in such a claustrophobic space means you never feel like Michelle is ever really safe.
In the modern age where we know movie schedules four to five years out, it was a joy to be shocked when 10 Cloverfield Lane came out of nowhere earlier this year. This isn’t a movie that everyone is going to enjoy, but what it does it does incredibly well. It’s a high tension thriller that makes the most of its highs and lows, without trying to be revolutionary in the process. It’s wise not to think of this as a sequel to Cloverfield, but more of a spiritual successor. And for the most part, this ends up being a better film. There’s more I could say, but part of the fun, as always, is trying to finish the puzzle.