10 Cloverfield Lane Movie Review
There are only a few times that I have had the privilege of going into a film without having any real information about it. 2008's Cloverfield was an example of this not only because I happen to be in Great Lakes Illinois learning the ways of Navy life, but also because outside of the trailer there wasn't that much information out on the internet about it. The folks at Bad Robot were notorious about remaining tight-lipped about the project to the point where people had even begun to believe that Cloverfield was going to be a live-action Voltron film. Thankfully, it ended up not being Voltron but a interestingly shot monster film that was all shot on shaky cam and without the viewer having knowledge outside of what a small handful characters are seeing. Cloverfield became a surprise hit and developed a lot of interest in a potential sequel with some of the strings the left dangling at the end of the film. Ultimately, a sequel was green light but not in the way you think it would have been. The Cloverfield 2 direct sequel slowly transformed into the "spiritual sequel" 10 Cloverfield Lane. Also not on the project was director Matt Reeves(Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes) replaced by former Totally Rad Show host and director of a pretty awesome Portal live-action short film Dan Trachtenberg. So the ultimate question as I sat down for this movie was 1.) Will this be as good as Cloverfield and 2.) What are the connections to Cloverfield if any at all?
The easy answer to those questions are a solid yes and a yes, but it is not needed. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a delightful concoction made of equal parts Stephen King's Misery, The Twilight Zone, War Of The Worlds to form the "bottle episode" of the Cloverfield series(think "The Fly" episode of Breaking Bad). This film does not try to play with the larger aspects of the first Cloverfield film instead opting to focus on new characters and a new location(Rural Louisiana) that is at most tangentially connected to what we knew before. 10 Cloverfield Lane is center focused on its only real characters Michelle(Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a woman escaping her relationship and life in New Orleans who finds herself "rescued" and locked underground after an accident with the scary and mysterious Naval Intelligence Sailor/conspiracy theorist/Doomsday preparer Howard Stambler (John Goodman). Underground with the two characters is Emmet DeWitt (John Gallagher Jr) a local resident and underachiever who helped Howard build his underground bunker. The initial shock that Michelle goes through with Howard telling her the apocalypse has come and everyone she knows is likely dead followed by 80 mins of satisfying tense moments that keep the viewer on the edge of your seat. The film's best moments finds a way to walk the line between the calm and tense moments at a pace that plays perfectly with the characters and central location. John Goodman's MVP performance as Howard Stambler helps this by becoming this idea personified. He is terrifying but still fatherlike at times, follows moments of horror with something that becomes is MORE unnerving like presenting ice cream.
This film does have some similar concepts as the original Cloverfield with the characters not knowing what's going on, and the only knowledge you gain is what the character learns during their interactions underground not by any knowledge that you the viewer learned outside of the characters scope of view. The breadcrumbs of information learned by Michelle and Emmet do more to increase the fear without the use of the infamous jump scares than 90 percent of the horror movies that I have seen the past few years. The film does an excellent job of explaining the horrors above and below as the films reach a satisfying climax but here lies the problem. The film feels like it lands awkwardly as it tries to double back and tie into the Cloverfield cinematic universe itself. The movie could have cut the last ten minutes off erased the Cloverfield off of this and become an ultimately better film. The film will lose some of you as it turns from a simple, tense thriller to something more in the science fiction realm.
Overall, ending aside, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an outstanding small tense thriller that's well written, well acted and outstandingly directed. Dan Trachtenberg picked the right film for his directorial debut, and one can only hope this is the very beginning of a successful career. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr do an incredible job of bringing a well-written script to life even if this does partially fall off the tracks if you don't buy the final shot. This movie is a 4 out of 5 stars solid recommend.