JJ Abrams insists that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a blood relative of 2008’s Cloverfield but, you know, it isn’t really. You could argue that they take place in the same universe, but you could also argue that they don’t. It doesn’t really matter. You definitely don’t need to see Cloverfield before you see this. You don’t even have to have liked Cloverfield to see this. Cloverfield could be your least favourite film ever, and there would still be a chance that you would adore 10 Cloverfield Lane.
It’s difficult to describe the film’s plot without giving anything away (and trust us, you don’t won’t anything to be given away), but here it goes: when a woman wakes up after a car crash chained to a wall in an underground shelter with a man who claims an undeterminable event has killed everyone on the surface and left the air uninhabitable, she has a hard time figuring out if she’s been rescued or kidnapped.
Excellent – perhaps even career-best – performance from the very small cast almost make you forget that most of the film is being held up by just three characters. John Goodman’s turn as Howard, the on-edge and enigmatic doomsday prepper with a saviour complex and owner of the bunker from the trailer, is both endlessly entertaining and utterly unsettling. John Gallagher Jr as happy-go-lucky Southerner Emmett is extremely likeable and has a fierce sense of comic timing. Mary Elizabeth Winstead provides a very human way into the film as the heroine, Michelle, a young woman who, while trying to run away from a relationship she doesn’t want to be in, finds herself trapped in an underground bunker she doesn’t want to be in even less.
Together, the trio are a powerhouse. There is no standout because all three are incredible. They pull you in at the start and keep you trapped, almost like they have lured you down into the bunker with them. Everyone starts on the same footing, including the audience; nobody really knows each other when the film kicks off, so the subsequent hour and three-quarters are spend trying to figure out if anyone is actually what they claim to be. As secrets are revealed, or rather, as theories about one another are internalised, it just gets weirder and weirder. From start to end, 10 Cloverfield Lane is tense as hell. There are quite a few good jump scares along the way, but it’s the smaller moments, the moments of suspicion and quiet reveals and revelations, that are the most sinister.
Unfortunately, the setup is far greater than the resolution. The way the film is wrapped up feels a little rushed and somewhat forced, perhaps in an attempt to tie it into the first Cloverfield. There’s so much else that could have happened that would have been a more satisfying ending than what we got. It could have been truly groundbreaking. Instead, it’s a decent example of franchises ruining things that don’t need to be franchised. 10 Cloverfield Lane would have worked far better as a standalone film, but then of course it wouldn’t have had as much power behind its viral marketing campaign, nor would it have attracted as much of an audience as it needs. It’s a vicious circle.
However, fantastic direction from Dan Trachtenberg makes his feature debut one not to be missed. It’s claustrophobic, atmospheric, creepy to the extreme, and stays with you for a good while. Everything is utilised to near perfection, from the tight, entertaining script, to the soundtrack, to the staging. The somewhat weak ending could definitely be overlooked, simply because the road to it is so damn brilliant.
Check out our video review of 10 Cloverfield Lane here.