What is 10 Cloverfield Lane? A spiritual sequel to Cloverfield (2008) is perhaps a just definition. Although, whilst Cloverfield was found-footage alien horror set in New York, this thriller is an utterly different beast (pun intended). Nevertheless, whilst the resemblance between the two films may be sparse, 10 Cloverfield Lane is arguably the better film.
The story begins with Earth seemingly under attack. Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) does a formidable job as the story’s heroine. After an argument with her partner – Bradley Cooper’s pleading voice vanishing before we register it’s him– Michelle is involved in a car crash. Upon regaining consciousness, she finds herself trapped in an underground bunker with Howard.
Howard is a character that, the less said about, the better. John Goodman is brilliant, simultaneously frightening and a hurt teddy bear. His intentions for Michelle are never made clear, remaining a mystery until the third act. Credit due to the writers – including Whiplash‘s Damian Chazelle – who here conjure up a narrative brimming with unnerving suspense, adding a couple of great twists along the way for good measure. Though it’s Goodman who makes Howard truly come alive. Howard’s interactions with Michelle are fraught with tension; his facial tics when seemingly unable to call Michelle a “woman” is one of several standout moments from a subtly terrifying performance.
Dan Trachtenberg’s direction is understated, yet wholly commendable for his first feature film. Under the production eye of J.J Abrams, he creates a wonderful 40’s war-time atmosphere within the underground bunker. Simple, but effective, shots include a lovely interaction between Michele and other “guest” Emmet – a young man who is her only company sans Howard. Trachtenberg delivers a simple back-and-forth shot of both characters conversing softly on either side of a wall; a moment of warmth and invite amidst their terrifying reality. There is no mistake of over-direction, and the film is edited almost faultlessly. Every lingering shot of Howard at the dinner table, as Michelle’s eyes grow more nervous, exists to ratchet up the ambiguity within the quandary our protagonist finds herself.
The story builds incredibly well. However, the final act does seem a little rushed. It’s like Trachtenberg and Co. wanted that grand finale, but perhaps ran out of the relatively small budget (approx. $10 million) to present us a clearer, lengthier look at what is now occurring above ground. Make no mistake though, the ending is highly entertaining; a shocking barrage of surprising reveals – yet somehow it just can’t match the intriguing character study and oozing tension of the bunker. Of course if a sequel is to come, which it sure gives the impression of, then the ending indeed sets one up perfectly.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a smart Hitchcockian thriller. Whilst the ending may be not to everyone’s tastes, when the action is underground in Howard’s bunker, the film tells a story of brilliant character drama, great mystery, and tightly-woven suspense.