Does 10 Cloverfield Lane live up to the hype?
(WARNING: This article contains 10 Cloverfield Lane spoilers.)
It would have been easy for 10 Cloverfield Lane to remain Cellar, the film penned by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken that originally had nothing to do with the Clover-verse. It completely stands on its own and is ultimately revealed to not really have anything to do with its predecessor.
At the same time, watching the "blood relative" of the original Cloverfield, it quickly becomes apparent why J.J. Abrams decided to swoop in and hit it with the Clover-stamp. It has that same nerve-wracking, tense feel to it, and deals with things not entirely of this world. It also makes for a great second installment to what will probably become an Abrams' anthology of sorts.
The gist: After a mad dash from her apartment, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) survives a brutal car crash and wakes to find herself locked up in Howard's (John Goodman) bunker basement. He tells her the apocalypse has hit, everyone she (and he) knows is dead, and the air outside is contaminated with something deadly. Joining Howard and Michelle is Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), who's just happy to be there and alive — he, unlike Michelle, is not the type to ask too many questions. After pretending to make nice, Michelle makes a daring escape attempt (featured in the trailer) but is quickly faced with a horrifying discovery.
The plot itself is fairly boilerplate, though, to its credit, it features some truly surprising twists. What really makes 10 Cloverfield Lane is its cast. Winstead, who's perfected the art of acting with her eyes, kills it as Michelle — without her saying a word it's clear she initially believes she's trapped in some kind of Saw or Human Centipede situation, and throughout the movie even if she's silent we know what's going through her head.
Meanwhile, it's impossible to tell what's going through Howard's. Is he insane? Dangerous? Weird and creepy but ultimately harmless? What are his intentions? Largely because of the sort of funny, genial role we've come to expect from Goodman, this dark turn is especially effective, and his portrayal will keep you guessing until you no longer need to.
And then there's Emmett, who just wants to live long enough for the air above to literally clear, in the hopes he can ride out whatever's happened (or still happening). He is our everyman — if courageous, resourceful Michelle is what we'd hope to be in a crisis, Emmett is what most of us probably would be, maintaining the status quo, keeping our heads down and just trying to survive without drawing too much attention to ourselves. It would have been easy for Emmett to be a perfunctory audience fill-in, but Gallagher Jr. brings a sad, loyal goodness to the character that keeps us rooting for him.
Unlike its predecessor, it's unclear for most of the movie what sort of threat looms above the bunker. (When unveiled, said threat proves to be kind of meh, but Michelle's reaction to it saves the reveal.)
The threat within the bunker is what really matters. Though the bulk of the film takes place underground, within the confines of Howard's doomsday walls, 10 Cloverfield Lane is absolutely a monster movie — just not the kind you might expect. 10 Cloverfield Lane is well aware of this and makes sure to take the "what would you do if the world ended?" question and tack on a "...if you're stuck with lunatics."
Take a look at the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, in theaters today, below.