THEATRICAL REVIEW: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Produced by: J.J. Abrams, Lindsey Weber
Screenplay by: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Story by: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken
Edited by: Stefan Grube
Cinematography by: Jeff Cutter
Music by: Bear McCreary
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.
It will do you no good making any direct comparisons between 10 Cloverfield Lane and its predecessor in name only, Cloverfield. The film started out life as an unrelated thriller titled Valencia and doesn’t even follow the same found footage style. Heck, it may not even take place within the same universe, despite some vague references here and there that hint to the contrary that already people may be making too big a deal out of. (Anyone else still want to try a Slusho?) Since the movie’s surprise trailer first released back in January, producer J.J. Abrams has described the film as being a companion film with similar themes, analogous to another type of ride within the same theme park. Fair enough. I’d liken the franchise as being much more like a sci-fi/thriller anthology series like The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, only in film format.
If you’ve seen the Tommy James and the Shondells-scored trailer, you actually have a pretty good idea of the premise behind this movie. Michelle is a young woman who, after getting into a car accident, finds herself waking up in an underground surival bunker, apparently the captive of a large brutish man named Howard, who claims to be saving her from what’s happening up on the surface. Naturally, Michelle isn’t entirely certain about Howard’s motives, but one thing becomes quickly apparent: something strange is indeed going on. But where lies the greater threat – inside the bunker with a potentially volatile Howard, or outside, where there has purportedly been some kind of attack?
What’s great about this movie is not just the ongoing question about whether Howard is a misunderstood savior or potentially dangerous captor, but how plausible either scenario is allowed to be at various points throughout the film. A lot of this has to do with John Goodman’s performance, which plays upon the actor’s inherent likability as well as his size and perpetually bellowing voice to showcase his capability for chilling intimidation, sometimes even when the character isn’t meaning to be. Howard, like most of the characters here, isn’t a complicated character beyond the ambiguity of whether he is insane or just awkward. There are snippets of backstory shared throughout this movie, though, both by Howard himself and through Emmett, the only other person hanging out with Howard when Michelle arrives, that keep the story generally riveting. None of that would’ve been as interesting had it not been for Goodman’s performance.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher, Jr. are also very good in their respective roles of Michelle and Emmett, even though their roles aren’t nearly as juicy as Goodman’s. Emmett provides the film with some necessary warmth, while Michelle proves to be a compelling and resourceful protagonist. Which brings me to my next point of praise regarding this movie: at no point did I question the intelligence of its characters. On the contrary, Michelle in particular is an all too rare thriller protagonist who is a few steps ahead of the audience in figuring out what to do without it becoming illogical nor improbable. I was rooting for her all the way through to the crazy finale – which I am not going to spoil, but I will say that it’s going to be the most divisive element of the movie, particularly those who like to call shenanigans on Abrams and the marketing choices of his movies. Suffice to say that if you saw the trailer, you’ll have some inkling of where the film is going and be able to draw your own conclusions as to whether you will be satisfied or not. I was, even if it was admittedly somewhat for the novelty of it all.
I really enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane. It doesn’t have quite the same shock-and-awe quality of the first, but that’s simply because this is a much smaller scale film, and it really doesn’t need to. The performances are all solid to fantastic, the direction from first timer Dan Trachtenberg is taught and keeps the limited setting interesting to look at, and as far as thrillers go, this one’s thoroughly exciting from beginning to end. Even if the next film in the series has nothing to do with this one nor the first, the Cloverfield branding already now has two immensely entertaining films under its belt, and I really hope it doesn’t take another 8 years for that to happen.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5