10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (USA/15A/103mins)
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
THE PLOT: After leaving her fiancé in a hurry, and being sideswiped by a car, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a cellar, injured and shackled to a wall. Her captor Howard (John Goodman) insists that he saved her from a terrible fate, since there has been an attack on the world above. Sceptical, Michelle enlists Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) – the only other person in the bunker – to make good their escape, not knowing what kind of world waits for them above.
THE VERDICT: Originally envisioned as a captive/end of the world type thriller, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ has been rewritten to be what JJ Abrams describes as a spiritual cousin to the 2008 alien invasion movie ‘Cloverfield’. Filled with tension and shifting loyalties, it is not immediately obvious that ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ needed the ‘Cloverfield’ connection, but it certainly doesn’t harm this small, well acted and engagingly scripted thriller.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead leads the cast in ’10 Cloverfield Lane’, and it is through her eyes that we see the film. Michelle is a well scripted and well acted character, with the audience going along for the journey with her. Winstead creates the role well, keeping the audience on her side, and keeping us changing our mind about what is actually happening as she does. John Goodman plays up the sinister as Howard, switching from sweet and kind, to dangerous and threatening in a heartbeat, and this is what keeps the atmosphere of the film tense and dark. John Gallagher Jr plays both sides in this battle of wits between Michelle and Howard, going with whichever side is more compelling, but Gallagher Jr makes for a good sounding board for Michelle and a vehicle for exposition.
Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle’s screenplay focuses on the events that happen in the bunker, with Michelle and the audience never sure what to believe. The characters are well written and the atmosphere kept tense and strained throughout the film, until things come to a violent and action packed close. The dialogue is strong, with enough known about the characters to engage with them, but enough left unsaid for there to be uncertainty throughout the film.
Director Dan Trachtenberg – who took over after Damien Chazelle left to make ‘Whiplash’ – creates a tense, bizarre and unsettling thriller in 10 Cloverfield Lane. The tension ebbs and flows cleverly throughout the film, with John Goodman playing a character who seems fit to blow at any moment. The real danger becomes Howard, and not the threat that has caused the trio to retreat to the bunker, although this literally and figuratively hangs over the characters’ heads for the entire film. The final 15 minutes or so of the film become an action movie with characters fighting for survival, and this is a welcome change of pace after the tense time in the bunker, and although it is ridiculously over the top at times, the action is fun and compelling. There are times, however, where the pacing of the film drops, and the constant indecision about what is actually happening in the outside world becomes repetitive.
In all, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ did not need to be connected to ‘Cloverfield’ for it to be an engaging and fun thriller with a burst of action at the end, but it doesn’t suffer for the association either. Winstead, Goodman and Gallagher are all strong in their roles, with Winstead carrying the film ably, and Goodman stealing the show as the dangerous and volatile Howard. The film could have benefited from some stronger pacing and tighter editing, but as it stands ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is fun, compelling and deeply unsettling.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

10 Cloverfield Lane
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Fun & unsettling
  • filmbuff2011

    Ever since the surprise announcement of 10 Cloverfield Lane in January, there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether it’s a sequel or not to Matt Reeves’ 2008 breakneck monster-stomping found footage film Cloverfield. The answer is… sort of. Producer J.J. Abrams had teased at a possible sequel for a number of years, stating that there are other stories within the Cloverfield universe that could also be told. 10 Cloverfield Lane is one of those stories… sort of.

    In the opening sequence, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) goes through an emotional decision and leaves her fiancee. Packing her stuff into her car, she heads for the highway. Later that night, she has a car crash. She wakes up later on in an enclosed room, chained to the wall and unable to escape. Her captor reveals himself to be Howard (John Goodman), a man who rescued her from the car crash. However, there’s something a bit different about him – he’s a survivalist who has built an underground bomb shelter. Believing the outside world to have suffered a devastating chemical attack and with the air polluted, he insists that the safest place to stay is underground. Along for the lengthy stay is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), who has his own connection to Howard. Is Howard just overly concerned, oddly eccentric or just plum crazy? And just what’s going on with those rumbling noises from above?

    To say anymore would be to spoil 10 Cloverfield Lane’s many delights. This is a very smart, tightly coiled, prescient sci-fi thriller which keeps audiences guessing right to the finish. References to ISIS and North Korea’s belligerence make it a bit more credible. After all, what hard-headed American wouldn’t have a survival plan in place? Even without the Cloverfield tag, this is a very entertaining film that stands on its own feet and makes you wonder just what’s going on. What would you do in Michelle’s place? Who can you trust?

    Beginning life as a script called The Cellar and with a working title of Valencia, Dan Trachtenberg’s debut film 10 Cloverfield Lane developed into its final form as it ended up at Bad Robot’s production office. The re-fit with the Cloverfield universe is only a tentative one – J.J. Abrams has been clear that it’s not a sequel and more of a blood relative. However, you could perceive 10 Cloverfield Lane as the second wave in an evolving universe. Abrams has other plans for expanding this franchise, it seems.

    Moving away from the found footage, putting-you-right-in-there approach and instead focusing on an intense survival story told from the perspective of three people, it’s a more evolved story with stronger characters. The acting is very good throughout, with Winstead a vulnerable but commanding lead and Goodman putting away the cuddly actor we all love and tapping into that inner psycho that we know he has it in him to play.

    Trachtenberg’s direction is strong and direct, keeping the story moving while cranking up the tension. The third act is just fantastic. Whereas a lot of sci-fi films fall apart at this stage (e.g. Skyline), 10 Cloverfield Lane ups the ante with considerable ease. A more direct connection to Cloverfield would be welcome, but this is still exciting, intense and thrilling entertainment. ****