10 Cloverfield Lane
Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very difficult film to talk about as the marketing has had any real details about the film cloaked in absolute secrecy so I’ll try not to talk in specifics throughout this review.
I’ll start by saying that people looking for a sequel to the 2008 found footage monster movie Cloverfield will likely be very disappointed as this definitely isn’t one. The story has absolutely no connection beyond a reference that I picked out that may not even be an intentional connection.
Is that a bad thing? As far as I’m concerned, absolutely not. I was a big fan of Cloverfield at the time and still revisit it periodically because I thought it was a good example of a relatively simple monster movie told in a unique way for that genre. The real strength of that film for me was the overall experience of absorbing the viral marketing and feeding that into the the eventual viewing. It all pretty much stopped after that despite speculation that there would be some kind of followup that eventually died out.
10 Cloverfield Lane came as a complete surprise to most with a trailer that announced a March release only appearing in January. It’s impressive that something like this can be kept a surprise in this age of information. It allowed some really intensified speculation about what the connection would be and what the film would actually be about.
As a standalone film it really works. It’s a really tense, claustrophobic thriller with the audience experiencing the story through the eyes of the clueless Mary Elizabeth Winstead who starts out feeling like she has been held against her will by Howard (John Goodman). Most of the film takes place in this confined location and it makes great use of the space to craft a really foreboding atmosphere that’s just uncomfortable to watch.
The atmosphere is a big part of what makes this film feels unsettling but another major part is the excellent performance of John Goodman. He’s a big guy so can be really imposing to look at and when that is combined with incredible acting then a character is created that is really difficult to feel at ease with. Everything from his mannerisms to the line delivery suggests that he is a man who doesn’t quite know how to socialise or deal with people and to be stuck with that is a really uneasy feeling. Many of us have come across people like this and wondered if that’s just the way they are so the idea of being in an enclosed space with them for an extended period of time is something that is easy to relate to.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a great performance as Michelle and acts as the perfect audience surrogate. She comes from the outside world that we all understand before being thrust into this situation that is both confusing and frightening to her. Every revelation in the film comes through her so we learn as she does and speculate about the truth just as he does. She’s likeable and relatable with a lot of personality and is very easy to root for throughout. Given the way the film is structured it is important to have a central character that the audience is comfortable being around and she embodies that perfectly.
There is another character in the mix in the form of Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) who is down there of his own free will and mostly exists to extend the conspiracy aspect of the narrative surrounding Howard. He is the weakest part of the film for me and could largely have been done without but he does appear in some fun scenes and has good chemistry with Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I think if the film had made him a more prominent fixture then his presence would have seemed necessary but his diminished role makes him feel disposable.
I love how the film blends in a little bit of mystery, horror and thriller into an experience that makes for a tense and captivating viewing experience. Learning about the characters organically through well structured dialogue and no small amount of guess work is a great way for things to progress. There are plenty of twists, half truths and reveals to keep things moving and it was perfectly paced meaning that nothing was lingered on for too long.
Anyone familiar with The Twilight Zone will feel right at home here and perhaps the Cloverfield branding could be used in a similar way. Imagine an unconnected franchise of completely different stories that play around with well known concepts in unusual ways. The first one was a found footage monster movie, this one is a character driven thriller so maybe the next could be an eerie survival story for example. The endless possibilities are what made The Twilight Zone so interesting so to have a cinematic version of that is an idea that really appeals to me.
The ending is something I won’t talk about in detail but it does feel completely at odds with what we have seen prior to it. In many ways it feels as if it belongs in a different film and I suspect it will have very divided opinions. Personally I liked it as it built on the theories I had developed in my mind throughout the film and offered some payoff for some of the questions asked to the audience throughout.
An excellent tense thriller with astounding performances from John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I’d advise going into this film as blind as possible as experiencing the mystery and the twists associated with it without any prior knowledge definitely feels like the best way to do it. I imagine the ending will divide opinion on the film but everything before that is excellent.
- the performances of John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
- a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere
- perfect pacing that built an intriguing mystery
- the character of Emmett feeling slightly unnecessary
User Review( vote)
Since I couldn’t really go into detail about pretty much anything in my review I have decided to put a rarely used spoiler discussion discussion section. If you haven’t seen the film and are still reading then I’d suggest you stop now and come back here after you’ve seen the film. You have been warned.
From the beginning I was hooked by the mystery associated with the story. John Goodman’s line delivery when Michelle is introduction to Howard perfectly creates enough doubt in Michelle -and the viewer- over the validity of his claims. It’s easy to believe that he’s just some lunatic who has kidnapped her for unknown reasons and is lying about the outside world being uninhabitable.
As the film progresses it starts to look more and more like he is right when Michelle sees a woman die in front of her eyes when she tries to escape. It looks likely that something has happened and it’s not safe to be outside. Once Michelle accepts it things start to seem more normal as she, Howard and Emmett just go about their lives waiting until it’s safe. There are still plenty of reminders that Howard is a strange man to be around but on the whole it seems like living with him isn’t a terrible thing to do.
It all becomes more unsettling when he shows Michelle a picture of his daughter to later have her find out that it’s some other woman. He does have a daughter but has chosen to show a picture of a neighbour he apparently kidnapped some time ago. At that point I was wondering if Howard kept people underground to try and recreate that family dynamic that he lost when they -presumably- ran away from him. Having a wife doesn’t seem that important to him as there isn’t someone his age down there with him.
I love how the film kept me guessing about what was going on. Is the outside uninhabitable? Has Howard decided to imprison her underground in an attempt to recreate his lost relationship with his daughter or is it a little of both?
When Michelle engineers her escape she finds out that the air is safe to breathe but aliens have attacked. After defeating one she heads to Houston to join the fight there and the film ends with a question as to what happens next. I can see the random appearance of aliens at the end of the film being a problem for some people but I liked it. It was another reminder of The Twilight Zone as many episodes have endings that feel completely divorced from the rest of the story. It was an interesting twist and showed us that Howard was at least partly right. It’s possible that he made certain assumptions based on what was happening and didn’t really know himself but either way, his plan to hide underground while this was going on was a good one.
At the end of the film there are still open questions around what happened to the woman in the picture with only her earring having apparently survived. Howard dissolves Emmett’s body in acid so I imagine that happened to her as well but why did Howard keep her underground if no attack had happened before now? How many people has he done that with? Are there other artifacts of his previous victims around the bunker that sit in the background unnoticed? One for the blu ray pausing I think.
It’s a great film that will keep me thinking for a long time and will certainly be something I revisit in the near future. I was fine with their being no connection to Cloverfield beyond the title and I like the idea of an unconnected franchise telling different kinds of stories with unusual twists. There was one connection to Cloverfield that I mentioned above. It is mentioned that Howard worked with satellites but there was nothing specific said about what that work involved. In Cloverfield the film ends with footage from before the incident showing an object falling into the water in the background and that object was a satellite. As links go it’s a really tenuous one but it did stand out for me. Maybe the monster was the first wave in this alien invasion but I doubt it.
Lastly there’s an interesting explanation of the change from the title The Cellar and the elements that were added when the script was rewritten to fall under the Cloverfield banner that can be found here. I look forward to the next unconnected installment.