J.J. Abrams, you sneaky bastard. Once again you’ve thrown both film fans and the internet into a frenzy by keeping details of yet another Bad Robot production secret from others. It all began in 2007 with the first teaser for Cloverfield, which forced moviegoers into the theater to see what “thing” attacked New York City. Then in 2013, crowds had to follow the same process for Star Trek Into Darkness to find out whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain character was indeed Khan. Halfway through the first month of 2016, Abrams pulled the rug out in revealing the teaser for 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film he described as a spiritual successor to 2008’s Cloverfield.
For the two months between its initial reveal and theatrical release, 10 Cloverfield Lane blew up social media and IMDB message boards on how much the movie would tie to its blood relative predecessor. I must bring this up because it’s a bad move to go in expecting something similar to Cloverfield. Sans their titles sharing the same word, both movies are almost entirely different from one another in terms of their plot, characters, style, etc. Although I put Cloverfield on a high pedestal since I still consider it to be the best found footage movie of the last decade, 10 Cloverfield Lane still manages to live up to its mysterious hype in a different yet still meticulous fashion.
The movie starts with a bang where a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets involved in a serious car accident that renders her unconscious. When she wakes up, she finds herself chained to the wall in a room that’s revealed to be part of an underground bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman). He tells her he saved her life but forbids her from going outside because of atmospheric fallout from “an attack” he claims to have taken place. Also inhabiting the bunker is Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), who trusts Howard that they’re safe underground. Michelle however believes otherwise and her opposition ignites a pressure cooker series of twists and turns that build up an engrossing mystery on if there is truly anything threatening outside.
One of the best aspects 10 Cloverfield Lane has going for it is the exceptional quality of the acting by the three leads. Winstead has consistently been one of the most terrific young actresses working today, and her performance as Michelle is one of the finest roles she’s had in her career. Her character is never one step behind anyone and has a lot of strong will in figuring out the mystery that lingers outside of the underground space she’s confined to. Gallagher is also solid in playing Emmet, who adds a delicate lightheartedness to the film’s tension with his easygoing personality that connects well with Michelle.
Amongst the trio, John Goodman is undoubtedly in a league of his own as Howard, the head of the household that can’t be entirely trusted. Goodman already doesn’t have to prove himself too much because he’s deservedly praised as one of the greatest character actors of our time, but to see him in this dark of a role was unforgettable to say the least. Most of his characters are either snarky, cynical, good-natured or sometimes a combination of the three, but Howard is anything but those aforementioned traits. The moment Goodman is introduced in the film, a strong sense of tension is exuded from his unsettling line delivery and that feeling remains in not being able to decipher whether or not his character’s intentions have well-meaning towards Michelle and Emmet.
The real MVP of this movie though is director Dan Trachtenberg, who has established himself as a name to be reckoned with amongst the Hollywood studios. His locked down shooting style of the action in the bunker is captivating for the claustrophobic spacing of the both the setting and tension that develops between the three leads. The suspense that Trachtenberg crafts in those scenes are ones that would ultimately make the great Alfred Hitchcock proud.
As thrilling as 10 Cloverfield Lane is, the film’s climax without spoiling anything significant will be a divider on how people will perceive the film as a whole. Based on the marketing, we’re already led to believe that there’s a surprise in store to completely shake up the plot. When that transition occurs it certainly delivers in the thrills category, but in the end will require a lot of time to process for how it goes about its shift in correlation to everything that was built up beforehand.
Like most Abrams productions these days, 10 Cloverfield Lane is difficult to review because of its marketing giving away so little of what happens. Based on what I’ve had to say above though, the movie is just as engaging an experience as it was seeing Cloverfield in theaters eight years ago. Knowing beforehand that the two movies share nothing more than just their title, 10 Cloverfield Lane will best be viewed for the amazingly acted, tense psychological thriller it is.