10 Cloverfield Lane November 4, 2016
Touted as the spiritual sequel to 2008 found-footage juggernaut Cloverfield, Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane is an exquisitely tense survival thriller that seems to bear no resemblance to its ostensible predecessor until its final half-hour reveals it to be something else entirely.
In the film, Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, a young woman on the run who finds herself kidnapped following a devastating car wreck.
Imprisoned by the controlling Howard (John Goodman), claims are made that she’s not being held captive but is, in fact, being kept safe. Just moments after the crash that very well could have killed her, the world was apparently devastated by an apocalyptic disaster. The air as most have known it is has become unbreathable — one step outside and death is a given. Since Howard has made a rural underground bunker his home of sorts in the wake of the alleged doomsday, all utilizing the security of the underground haven, including Howard’s neighbor, Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), will purportedly be immune to the horrors that await outside.
Given that she woke up chained to a mattress in a windowless room and can only remember the normalcy of the world she had only recently been a part of, Michelle calls bullshit — and spends the rest of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s running time testing out different, ingenious methods of escape.
But Howard, a classic abuser, only grows more furious the more he tries to convince her that she really is safer inside her quasi-cell. Difficult it is to decide whether Michelle’s more protected being tucked away with Howard and the passive Emmett or if she’d be better off defending her life against the supposed menaces waiting to get her the second she escapes.
Fans of the original Cloverfield will undoubtedly wait impatiently for things to descend into monster mash madness — an unconventional sequel released nearly a decade after the original should be expected to throw in at least some stabs at kaiju wizardry — but for those unfamiliar with the masterful predecessor might be disappointed in the film’s metamorphosis from Hitchcock emulating suspense piece to low-budgeted sci-fi flick. Because 10 Cloverfield Lane is such an impressive piece of pulse-pounding work, I encourage those who haven’t seen the 2008 adrenaline pumper to watch the latter before making their way toward this unorthodox continuation. In effect will the closer ring as charged rather than jarring.
But even its potentially audience blindsiding shift in genre doesn’t deter the brilliance of the scenes of suspense Trachtenberg so tautly leads nor the brilliance of the perpetually underrated Winstead and Gallagher, Jr. Goodman, too, is a fascinatingly detestable villain, an immaculate embodiment of the darkened three-dimensionality of a tortured abuser. Character development is minimal as a result of survival being more vital than backstory, but the ensemble turns in uniformly superb work that provides 10 Cloverfield Lane with feverish desperation.
It perhaps runs too long for a movie that changes its setting only once, and perhaps the ending would benefit from Blair Witch Project level ambiguity to heighten the terror of it all. But 10 Cloverfield Lane is nonetheless a smart, tightly wound thriller that harkens back to the deceptively elementary days of Dial M for Murder (1954) and Wait Until Dark (1967). This is a blockbuster restoring in its simplicity. B+