Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
The secrecy surrounding this film as it came out is I think one of its best selling points. As it was being developed and filmed, few people realised that it was going to be a sequel to the J.J. Abrams movie. The ambiguity and intrigue that the revelation of the film’s title inspired ended up being a key ingredient in what made watching this film such an enjoyable experience. The question of how this story is connected to Cloverfield adds much to the uncertainty provided by the film’s very concept and also keeps the viewers on their toes whenever they start to believe that they might have figured this movie out. I was a bit apprehensive about watching this movie as I wasn’t really a fan of the original Cloverfield. However I ended up finding the sequel, with its wholly different tone and style from that of its predecessor, to be a fascinatingly compelling and intriguing film. It works well enough on its own but as an ambiguous sequel with an uncertain connection to its original counterpart it works splendidly as both a mystery and a thriller.
After breaking up with her fiancé, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) frantically drives through rural Louisiana where she ends up in a car collision. When she regains consciousness she finds herself chained and locked in an underground bunker. Howard (John Goodman), the man holding her in this place, reveals that an unknown attack has occurred and that he cannot allow her to leave his shelter. These claims are given credence by the testimony of a third survivor Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a construction worker who helped to build this bunker and who witnessed the attack himself. After an escape attempt convinces Michelle of the truth behind these claims she accepts that she must remain in the bunker with these two men for an indeterminate amount of time. As time passes by however, Howard’s eccentricities and antagonism convince Michelle that he might be withholding secrets from them both and might even have ulterior motives for holding her in the bunker.
While Cloverfield was a found-footage monster movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane adopts an entirely different style as a claustrophobic psychological thriller. The audience is trapped in the bunker along with Michelle while the threat in the outside world remains invisible and anonymous. The film makes the wise decision of portraying the entire narrative through Michelle’s eyes, meaning that we only ever know as much as she does. With each new discovery she makes about the ominous threat that has them all trapped inside this bunker and also about the strange, hotly tempered man keeping her here, the deep tension and stirring intrigue keeps growing and growing. Although I do think that the ultimate pay-off in the third act was perhaps a little too far-fetched, the way that the mystery unfolds over the course of the first and second acts is a suspenseful and captivating experience.
At the centre of it all is Winstead as Michelle, the viewer’s window into this world. While we never really learn much about her, we get a strong enough sense of her personality that she never feels like a mere surrogate for the audience. In her attempts to understand the reality of her situation and the natures of the men sharing this living space with her, the film never makes the mistake of making her an idiot. She applies reason and rational thought, she is able to be trusting without being naïve and she takes action when faced with a legitimately threatening situation. The best performance of the film however belongs to John Goodman as Howard. This is a man who clearly isn’t all there, given that he was paranoid enough to have actually built the bunker in the first place, and whose eccentricities range from strange to charming to terrifying. He is the one who holds all of the power within this bunker which means that he could be either Michelle and Emmett’s greatest asset or most dangerous threat. The fact they don’t know which he is scares them to no end.
10 Cloverfield Lane is easily a clear step up from its predecessor. The film is tense, smart and enthralling and unfolds its story and just the right pace. While I did find parts of the climax to be somewhat bewildering and cannot help but feel that they sort of undermined the film as a whole for me, I can still definitely say that I never saw a single frame of it coming. Obviously I cannot elaborate in any way on what happens, but feel I should say that the decision to make this movie a sequel to Cloverfield without explaining how or why was an excellent one on the studio’s part. The mystery of how the two movies are connected is the icing on what is already a rich and layered cake. If this franchise chooses to continue the trend of reinventing itself then I eagerly await its future instalments.