It’s a known fact that J.J. Abrams never met a massively mysterious ad campaign he didn’t like, but when it came to 10 Cloverfield Lane, the tricksy producer/director truly outdid himself. The spiritual sequel to 2008’s first person monster mash, Cloverfield (which I guess makes the franchise a Twilight Zone style anthology series), didn’t just have a enigmatic ad campaign but featured a continually unfurling plot that meant you wasn’t exactly sure what kind of movie you’re watching until the credits roll. Was it a straight up paranoia thriller? A sci-fi invasion movie? Was the creature from Cloverfield going to show up?
Sometimes, rampant theorizing can hurt a movie, especially if your particular theory ends up not holding water (I personally would’ve put a cash bet on the attack that makes everyone take shelter was a direct result of the Cloverfield monster’s rampage) but producer Abrams and director Dan Trachtenberg obviously feel that no matter what people are saying, it’s all good as long as people enter 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Michelle is a young woman who has just split up with her boyfriend and is out driving when she’s in a nasty crash and she finds her situation hasn’t improved much when she later wakes up in a strange bunker, chained to the wall and sporting an injured leg. The bunker belongs to Howard, a man who’s tireless paranoia has seemingly paid off due to the fact that he insists the surface has become uninhabitable thanks to some mysterious biological attack. Considering Howard looks like the type of malajusted mouth-breather any woman wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with, Michelle is understandably sceptical, but a third denizen of the bunker, young slacker Emmett, seemingly confirms it. However, after an aborted escape attempt by Michelle results in her putting all doubt aside, the three individuals settle down to possibly a year or more nestled in this subterranean existence modestly lavished with all mod cons (unless you have a issue pooping behind a shower curtain) – but there’s still that nagging feeling that Howard’s not exactly on the up and up… Are the tales of his estranged daughter true and if so, why does Emmett seem to think that the photo he has of her isn’t her at all; and what’s the deal with the words “HELP” scratched into the window of a locked escape hatch? Of course, on top of these questions are even bigger questions: what has happened to the world? Is it really an invasion from a foreign enemy or has Howard’s paranoid musings about an extra-terrestrial assault become horribly prophetic?
10 Cloverfield Lane, bluntly put, is a simple story expertly told where precision direction and great performances aid a belter of a script in creating a legitimately nerve shredding experience. However, as it feels that no one’s mentioned this movie in about five years so I’m loathe to give away it’s ever changing secrets just in case I rob someone of the experience.
Just when you lean back in your seat, smug in the fact that you finally think you’ve got the film figured out, it cannily shifts the goal posts with a quick adjustment of the status quo: is Howard crazy or just weird? Is Emmett all he makes out to be? The only thing that is truly certain is that Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle is wading in fairly deep shit regardless of whatever the fuck is going on and having the giant, expressive eyes of Winstead guiding us through the ever-changing landscape of this puzzle-box of a story turns out to be hugely beneficial. Both vulnerable and tough in equal measures, Michelle’s arc tells us that she’s a woman who usually runs from her troubles when things get tough and the dynamic of her having to figure out her problems when there’s nowhere to run to is gripping. In comparison, John Gallagher Jr. seems like he has it easy as the amiable Emmett, but the character has to act as the middle man to Michelle and Howard and when you consider that he played the thuggish serial killer in Mike Flanagan’s Hush in the same year, you realise how deceptively good a job he’s doing.
However, if Winstead and Gallagher Jr. are good, then John Goodman is nothing short of a revelation as the humourless walking red flag that is Howard and is legitimately terrifying for every second he’s on screen as he exudes utter menace with every loud exhale. The scene where a guessing game gets ludicrously tense thanks to an honest miscommunication will turn your guts in knots (especially if you’ve had a similar experience playing family games at christmas shudder) and a fair amount of nervous laughs are wrung out of the unrelenting tension which Goodman expertly mines.
So the acting is great and the stress is plentiful, everything kind of hangs on the last ten minutes to stick the landing and this is the sole part of 10 Cloverfield Lane that’s honestly up for debate on whether it works or not. How you take the finale depends pretty much on what kind of film you wanted 10 Cloverfield Lane to be in the first place; you’re either going to think it’s a step too far or it’s going to be exactly what you were hoping for (no Cloverfield monster, though, so it’s good I didn’t cash in that bet…) – I personally dug it, but I’d understand anyone who declared that it comfortably jumped the shark. But regardless on your opinion, the majority of the film ends up being an edge of your seat affair with minimum locations and maximum anxiety.
If you want a strikingly great thriller, then believe me, calling in at 10 Cloverfield Lane means you’re at the right address…