Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane is a riveting thrill ride
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Synopsis: After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.
It’s pretty safe to say that 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a direct sequel to the J.J. Abrams produced Cloverfield that graced screens in 2008. However, Abrams is on record of saying that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “blood relative” to Cloverfield, and that is a great way to describe it, if you ask me. Regardless of relation, 10 Cloverfield Lane is doing it’s own thing and isn’t interested in the same things as Cloverfield. The style here is quite different in terms of approach but it is similarly effective at creating suspense and tension. Dan Trachtenberg’s direction is tightly gripped and focused, creating a thrilling atmosphere that lingers in every scene. It’s calculated but in a great way of understanding the material and playing with audience expectation. Trachtenberg cleverly builds false suspense at times which keeps the film unrelenting in it’s uncertainty. The humor is well-timed and the score amps ups the tension masterfully as well as give the thrill ride a sense of fun. And overall Trachtenberg gives 10 Cloverfield Lane a visceral quality that takes advantage of it’s (pretty dang good) script.
The film begins by showing us that Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has recently had an argument with her fiancé and has left town to escape the heartbreak. While driving way she’s involved in a car accident that hinders her unconscious. When she wakes up, she finds herself chained to a bed in an unknown location. Soon after, she meets Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who explain to her that there’s been a widespread chemical attack on the United States and that it’s not safe to go outside. The three begin a riveting dynamic that is full of tension, paranoia, untrust and perhaps even some bonding by the end as they are forced to figure out what’s really happening around them.
The script is predicated on a captivating catch 22. You’re trapped in a room with a potential psychopath but if you enter into the outside world, there’s a high possibility you will die. The dilemma presented is a fascinating concept but it’s what the writing team does with said premise that makes the film so enthralling. Each character is given time to flesh out their motivations and the dialogue among them is alluring. The mystery behind what each character is really up to unfolds itself with impeccable timing and is always engaging. Some of it is even played for laughs as a way of keeping the audience guessing, which is both hysterical and horrifying at the same time.
The script’s success, along with the film’s gripping tension, is due to the phenomenal performances on display. John Goodman gives a legit performance that would foster awards conversation if this film came out in November. Goodman’s nuances are utterly captivating and he brings necessary understanding to his character. Howard is clearly disturbed on some level and paranoid but simultaneously he’s also smart, prepared and reasonably cautious. And the way Goodman depicts both sides of Howard is magnetic in every scene. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also really great in a committed performance. She highlights the films themes in a manner that makes them feel earned and heartfelt. John Gallagher Jr. is a bit overshadowed but he does serve the role well taking advantage of the few moments he gets to shine. The threesome together is quite something to behold.
Thematically there’s some interesting notions surrounding paranoia and our capabilities to get lost in it, however the film is more interesting in these ideas of feeling trapped. There’s a physical element of that at the beginning of the film with the Michelle character but more so, how do you cope with feeling trapped psychologically and emotionally? These are the main questions Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle are raising. Specifically, the film digs even further with these notions of being trapped in regret, which is depicted beautifully in conversations we see between Michelle and Emmett that bring pathos to the film. The final shot of 10 Cloverfield Lane is wrestling with this idea and for one character (he or she) must make a decision as to what it means for them.
Speaking of the ending, this is the movie’s Achilles heel. It’s aesthetically quite different than anything that came before it and almost feels like it’s from a completely different film. The conclusion feels a bit tact on with the film feeling like it has to take advantage of potential outside circumstances that it presented earlier. The blend of these two aesthetics don’t quite come together but it’s not a complete failure either. The ending still features solid direction, great acting and it’s thematically consistent.
Overall, the craftsmanship on display pretty stimulating and Trachtenberg has put his name into the hat of directors you need to watch out for in the near future. 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a perfect film but it’s one of the more cinematic and blistering experiences we’ll perhaps see in 2016.
Overall Grade: A-