Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane
There are a solid 60 seconds or so at the start of 10 Cloverfield Lane where you breathe easy, sit back in your chair, and have normal vital functions. But after a shocking jolt, and we find ourselves in a strange place alongside our heroine, there is no more relaxing.
This follow-up to the equally mysterious but decidedly different Cloverfield exists in the same world as that found-footage film from 2008, but tells a vastly divergent story, sensationally, terrifyingly so.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, under the guidance of J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company, 10 Cloverfield Lane finds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) driving through Louisiana, having left her husband and home behind and heading, well, somewhere. She doesn’t make it.
A jarring car crash later, she awakes disoriented, hurt, and scared, soon learning she now resides in a doomsday bunker. Her captor is a burly, idiosyncratic man of many layers named Howard (John Goodman), who explains that the world is coming to an end and that they are all lucky to be surviving underground. A third young man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) is also present, sporting a sling for a broken arm yet plenty of jokes and optimism. There is talk about a woman in Howard’s life, but she is no longer with us.
The film is far more in control than the viewer, guiding us through a mystery below ground while something is happening above, wondering about the pasts and intentions of our three characters. It throws in some startling sound effects, a lot of jump scares, and plenty of paranoia. Goodman is superb, at times empathetic and frightening, a man maybe full of lies or maybe simply prophetic. His physicality always threatens, making the underground space, which is fully furnished and has a few different rooms, ever more oppressive.
Tension comes in different forms. There is fear and uncertainty to start, but Howard’s beliefs and stories start to seem fully founded. Yet still something is off about him. Even when a functional and happy family dynamic emerges among the three (a great montage is set to ‘I Think We’re Alone Now,’ of course), there is something unsettling taking place, and it’s only a matter of time before chaos erupts anew.
It has a plan, and delivers, and a there is a trust established very quickly with the filmmakers, as you let them take you on this journey into fear and chaos. It’s best experienced knowing as little as possible, and thankfully the filmmakers and marketers know that too (they also know they stand to make a ton of money on what is a rather low-budget production). That it exists in tandem with Cloverfield means something paranormal and fantastical is taking place, and regardless of the finale, satisfying and wild, the core of the film is a simple three-hander between our players, mesmerizing and mysterious. Remember to breath.