Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

One of the things modern cinemagoers don’t really have, in the post-internet world, is the mystery surrounding a new movie. Unless you were a hardcore film nerd or someone with contacts in the industry, I imagine it was impossible to find out most plot details until the day of release – but now, whole plots can be ruined even before the film is released, while trailer marketing idiots continue to give away huge plot points in a two-minute slice (Prometheus being perhaps the worst offender in recent years).

So 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was only revealed two months before release with an enigmatic trailer, is a more than welcome new release (though the name, and an apparent link you assume to Cloverfield, does take a bit of the shine off, as you will understand when you see it). This a surprise worth saving yourself for, as the film’s small cast, taut plot, extreme tension and enclosed setting would make Alfred Hitchcock proud.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a car accident, and wakes up in a bunker, chained to the wall, seemingly held captive by the aloof and unpredictable Howard (John Goodman), who claims a chemical attack has decimated the world outside. She later meets the other resident of the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), and begins to question what’s going on, and who’s telling the truth, while wondering if and when she can escape (or if she should).

That’s as spoiler-free a synopsis as I think you can write! Needless to say, the story and mystery is one of this film’s major successes, with first-time director Dan Trachtenberg (and producer J.J. Abrams, hence the Cloverfield connection and air of mystery) crafting a magnificently tense thriller from the script of Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and other first-time director of WhiplashDamien Chazelle. Even giving away what genres this might belong to would spoil the movie, but suffice to say it’s as fluid as your perspectives on the characters and their situation.10_Cloverfield_Lane

The film’s quality does take a bit of a hit in the last 15 to 20 minutes, and that’s where it might lose some people, but I imagine for most it will not be a surprise. This is where it becomes a little bit more of an action film, but despite a few issues (I really can’t say what they are!), it resolves itself in a manner befitting what’s come before. Trachtenberg also shoots the film in a clear, direct and taut way so that you feel as constricted as Michelle, the amazing sets making up the bunker building a really claustrophobic atmosphere.

All three actors deserve to be recognised for shouldering the film between them, with only Gallagher Jr’s Emmett a little less interesting – simply because he’s not our protagonist, and because John Goodman is so terrifying. Goodman is so often a schlubby, gruff onscreen character that when he plays a role like Howard, you realise how wide his range is. There is absolutely no way to predict what he’ll will do next, and Goodman brings bursts of menace, zaniness and (at times) sensitivity, sometimes all in one unnerving scene. In fact, I’d say the film wouldn’t have been as good without him, he’s that excellent.

Winstead however is equally as good, playing the dazed and confused Michelle, and placed in an impossible situation, but with the resolve to survive and the smarts to question what’s going on. The character is anything but a damsel in distress, and as each new issue or problem surfaces, she adapts and strives to stay on top of things, with the actress giving a sympathetic, rousing performance. She’s also the sole woman in what many movies would make a deeply uncomfortable situation (just one of the ways it confounds your expectations); while Gallagher Jr’s character feels a bit of a missed opportunity, but he gets a few chances to stand out, explaining his experiences to Michelle, and at least a third character in the mix is more interesting than just a captive and captor.

A really strong, memorable and haunting main theme from composer Bear McCreary flows in and out, while the remainder of the soundtrack simmers in the background, exploding when the tension does to maximum effect. Additionally, and much like Hitchcock, the editing of Stefan Grube (alongside Trachtenberg’s direction) helps to ratchet up the tension, with long, still takes accentuating the mounting unease onscreen. For a 12A movie, this is an incredibly tense ride, with hints and teases of horror throughout – those of a jumpy disposition have been warned!

That I had no idea this film was coming out three months ago is a real testament to Abram’s desire (see also Star Wars: The Force AwakensLost or in fact the original Cloverfield) to keep secrets and surprises for us film fans. 10 Cloverfield Lane could have been a disappointment, but the fact that it really wasn’t – and that its secrets and surprises were cleverly crafted and completely hidden before release – make it a must-see. In particular, see it before someone else ruins it for you!

It takes a bit of a nosedive towards the end, sure, but not enough to make it terrible – and more intelligent, taut thrillers like this would be very welcome.

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