UK Release Date: 18th March 2016
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writer: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr, Bradley Cooper
Synopsis: After a car accident, a young woman awakens in an underground bunker handcuffed to a bed by a sinister conspiracy theorist who says that he has rescued her from an unsafe, irradiated outside world in the grip of an unspecified major disaster.
No one was expecting 10 Cloverfield Lane. Rumours of a sequel to found footage hit Cloverfield have been swirling around the internet ever since the original became such a huge success, but nothing concrete had been said until January this year when a trailer dropped. Somehow, debut director Dan Trachtenberg had pulled off a secret film and its secrets were finally set to be released into the world. The result is a tense, intricately written thriller that consistently keeps the audience guessing.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) storms out on her boyfriend Ben (Bradley Cooper) after a massive row and is involved in a serious car accident. She wakes up handcuffed in a cellar and soon meets Howard (John Goodman), who owns the place. He claims that he has not kidnapped her, but has instead rescued her from some sort of hideous disaster happening above ground. The cellar’s third occupant, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) seems to corroborate the story, but Michelle still has her doubts about whether Howard is her saviour or her captor.
10 Cloverfield Lane is tremendously crafted from its opening moments. The script plays its cards close to its chest, conveying a creepy atmosphere that builds tension without feeling the need to drown viewers in laboured exposition. It’s easy to see why Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken’s screenplay, originally known as The Cellar before it was polished by Whiplash auteur Damien Chazelle, was considered such a hot commodity in Hollywood. The characters are drawn with remarkable simplicity, but they each hint at complexity and murky morals lurking beneath the surface.
Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come.
No one is more murky than John Goodman’s Howard, who is a crackpot conspiracy theorist with a sinister, threatening edge. Goodman underplays the role to great effect, preferring to convey the darkness of the character through pregnant pauses and disapproving looks, giving the few moments of explosive anger even more impact. The character could easily have been written as a generic raving conspiracy nut, but this performance of simmering aggression transforms that stereotype into a layered human being with skeletons threatening to tumble out of his closet.
Alongside Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead finally finds a horror film that allows her to showcase her talents after disappointing roles in Final Destination 3 and The Thing. Winstead’s protagonist has more smarts than the standard “final girl” and often subverts the standard moments of character stupidity that Scream turned into a joke. John Gallagher Jr also does solid work in the nominal comic relief part, but takes a central role in one of the film’s most shocking moments of sudden brutality.
Trachtenberg shows impressive flair behind the camera throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane, making the most of the claustrophobic setting to create a compelling sense that the predicament is inescapable. It’s a film about human survival and the question about whether the evils of humanity can be worse than whatever is outside the door. These themes are teased out with delightful control by a script that is never worried to rush to its conclusion and enigmatic direction that never gives the audience more knowledge than the characters have obtained within the story.
It’s the end of the world and he’s upset about a dead pig.
Unfortunately, 10 Cloverfield Lane loses this control when it moves into its third act. To venture too deeply into its flaws would spoil the movie, but it opens out the world in a way that was absolutely unnecessary. With its final developments, the film places itself within an easily identifiable genre world rather than the intriguing place it had been pitched previously. It’s an extended finale that feels as if it was tacked on late in the day and abandons intrigue in favour of spectacle – a sour, rotting cherry on top of what had otherwise been a very well-baked treat.
Pop or Poop?
10 Cloverfield Lane is a great example of how controlled direction and measured writing can maximise a low-budget setting to produce a genuinely gripping psychological thriller. Understated performances and interesting character dynamics make up for what is, on the face of it, a pretty bare bones setup.
Unfortunately, the third act reaches for an identity that couldn’t be further from what the film had previously marked itself out to be. As a result, it leaves a deeply impressive film to end on a disappointing note
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.