Thanks to the great marketing of 10 Cloverfield Lane (such as only announcing the film about two months before it came out), it can be assumed most people would like to avoid spoilers. In deference to them, I will do so until the end of this review.
Before I begin, let’s address the elephant in the room: no, it’s not a direct sequel. Now that we have that out of the way…
The movie begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) getting into a car accident and finding herself in an emergency bunker. Inside the bunker is her saviour/captor, Howard (John Goodman), and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr. from Short Term 12). At some point between the moment Michelle gets in the car to when she wakes up, there is some sort of attack. At least, this is what Howard tells her.
At first, she fights with Howard and attempts to leave. Soon after, she settles in and attempts to live as “normal” a life she possibly can with Howard and Emmett.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead has never been this incredible. And that’s not an attack on her acting abilities, as she’s always great, but it’s what she does in this that puts her performance on another level. Acting with her eyes, you always see her thinking, wondering and afraid.
Emmett is sweet and wonderful. In all his scenes, he can be the literal comic relief, trying to make light of the situation they are in (which Howard isn’t entirely happy about). Howard balances calm and collected with intimidating and terrifying. It’s because of this that both the audience and Michelle are questioning nearly everything Howard says. Michelle becomes our conduit to the situation, due to our being just as in the dark as to what’s occurring above ground as Michelle. We too can never be sure if Howard is telling the truth.
Not only does Goodman pull off a great balancing act, but so does the film, directed by first time (feature) director, Dan Trachtenberg. Trachtenberg does an excellent job of balancing the film’s sweet, claustrophobic, small, huge, tense, and fun moments.
He knows exactly when to tighten the tension, and always finds the perfect moment to release the joke. It’s only in these moments of levity that I realized how tense I was, and how tightly I held onto my arm rest. The script was looked over, and apparently punched up, by Whiplash director/writer, Damien Chazelle, and this is where I think his contribution is most felt. As the film progresses, you can feel the tension, and while it’s not tense due exclusively to the dialogue/script, it’s a big part of it.
This film deserves to be seen on the big screen because not a single frame is wasted. The cinematography is incredible, as even though the film takes place in such a small location, Trachtenberg continues to find new angles and views so that the scenery and locations never felt boring or repetitive. And with the final act*, there is no doubt it needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that I wasn’t even aware of when the year began shooting quickly into my most anticipated films of the year once it was announced. Now that it’s out, it shot into my favourite films of the year, and I have a feeling it’ll stay high up there as the year continues. I plan on revisiting 10 Cloverfield Lane multiple times throughout the year.
*final act & other thoughts.
Using the title, Cloverfield, might bug people, yes, as Bad Robot and company use the title as a sort of bait-and-switch to get a bigger audience. Due to knowledge of the first film from 2008, and it’s incredible viral marketing (not to mention the outcry from many online communities for a sequel of sorts), people may expect this film to have a connection with the original. There isn’t one. It’s not a prequel or a sequel. It’s another world entirely.
Is this right? Maybe, maybe not. When the first trailer was first released, attached to 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, I heard about the name first and spent hours looking for the trailer. Once the trailer was posted online, and I saw it in full, there was a sense that it was not connected to the original at all. In fact, I was more interested in the fact that the film was being released so soon (which I wrote about here) than the title.
Abrams and director Trachtenberg went on to mention the film is a “blood relative” to the original, and this was enough for me to think “forget monsters in massive scale, think about a smaller scale monster.” It may be just as scary. And as the tagline says, “Monsters come in many forms.” it’s clear that the monster they’re referring to is Howard. The biggest reveal (for me), was that the picture he showed Michelle of Megan, was not Megan. She’s, in fact, another woman who went missing two years back. It’s here when the film starts turning on it’s side and making twist after twist.
This film is now part of an anthology series. Cloverfield, was the name of a street near the Bad Robot head office. It was a working title that just stuck. Since then, the name means something else. Not the creature, but the mood and tone over the end of the world. That looming, gloomy, sudden death that can occur to any of the characters you get to meet. The final image makes you think that there may be a direct sequel to this, as Michelle turns towards the fight. A moment so perfectly earned, I couldn’t help but be happy. As much as I’d love to be in this world again, the ending of her running to something, as opposed to running from something as she did in the beginning, is wonderful. This story is now over.
Also, Emmett had a throwaway line about Howard having a theory about mutant alien worms, so the ending wasn’t necessarily that out of nowhere.