Mar 222016
10 Cloverfield Lane Poster
Title: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: John Goodman,
Mary Elizabeth Winstead,
John Gallagher Jr.
Genre: Thriller, Sci-fi
Runtime: 1 Hour 43 mins
Music: Bear McCreary
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12A
Release Date: US: Mar 11 2016
UK: Mar 18 2016
See If You Like: The Thing, Room,

There doesn’t seem to be any obvious tie-ins around…

I never really got on with the original Cloverfield truth be told. In a Godzilla starved time period, I was keen to see a giant monster movie but in that era of found footage movie mania, I disregarded it a couple of times due to it’s genre downfalls. With the stealth announcement of a pseudo-sequel/spin-off in 10 Cloverfield Lane from a few months ago about this bunker movie being made in secret, I’ll admit my curiosity was peaked as the style of film was completely different to the footage spiritual predecessor. Plus I was a little bit interested to see how it would tie-in. Surprisingly, this successor hosts a slick, understated direction along with a real acting masterclass about the real monster in the post-apocalypse.

After a fight with her fiancé, wannabe fashion designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kill The Messenger) storms off and starts driving into the countryside before being knocked unconscious in a car accident. When she wakes up, Michelle is chained to the wall but has been administered medical care in a barren concrete room. Her captor, strict gun toting survivalist Howard (John Goodman, Trumbo), claims that there has been an attack of some sorts with the air outside his well stocked survival bunker being toxic. Fellow survivor Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr., The Newsroom) and events outside the entrance to the bunker back up Howard’s claims yet quirky aspects & clues around the bunker lead Michelle to suspect ulterior motives.

I’ll be upfront to what I knew of 10 Cloverfield Lane before viewing it – I read through the whole plot. No I’m not mad. Whilst I enjoy a good post-apocalypse bunker or ‘cabin fever’ movie, there’s not a great deal you can do with the resolution and there is a certain ending to them that I point blank refuse to see anymore as I feel it’s clichéd and downright patronising as a worthless bait & switch tactic.

Knowing what was about to unfold did not stop me appreciating the claustrophobic mood & on-edge nature of the film. Despite my own failing of reading ahead of the plot, I must give credit to first time director Dan Trachtenberg (most famous for a well received fan film of  the Portal videogame as well as podcast presenting) for still maintaining a cracking level of tension throughout. The musical score from Bear McCreary (The Forest) is a little on the nose but appropriate all the same with an almost out of this world element to violin screeches to the dread filling soundtrack. Howard has a strict lifestyle and rules over the bunker with an iron fist with an eye on not letting events happen behind his back. Whilst the other two do not live in fear per se, Howard’s uptight idiosyncrasies leave them on edge with Howard being easily irritable and willing to use force.

John-Goodman-Mary-Elizabeth-Winstead-10-Cloverfield-Lane-05Whilst we see events from Michelle’s point of view, there are a few elements of doubt to whether what we’re led to believe from the scary Howard is actually true or if our fellow cohabitant Emmett is all he seems. Most hints are subtle and you’re led to make your own conclusions which is all the more impressive for a major Hollywood picture made in 2016. It is certainly jarring to see the final 5-10% of the film being different to what has been placed before us and yet I am much more appreciative to see a filmmaker following through on the stall that they have set out from the start rather than do a redundant 180 degree turn. Whilst 10 Cloverfield Lane does foreshadow events, the style and tension masks it completely.

A good word for the nature of 10 Cloverfield Lane is economic. With no real obvious flashy setpieces to show off in promotional materials, the film is about the supposed monster inside us all rather than any giant kaiju trashing New York. The stripped down nature of the bunker and the limited, barren set design givens the small trio of performers a suitable platform to showcase their talents. There was some real effort put in to make the underground spot of salvation a believable area where people live with Howard not forgetting to stock up on plenty of board games, DVD’s and other entertainment facilities. The small touches like the games’ boxes starting to yellow due to aging is a nice touch.

John-Gallagher-Jr-Mary-Elizabeth-Winstead-John-Goodman-10-Cloverfield-Lane-06Paying close attention to the performances, Goodman as Howard puts in a real acting masterclass. The obvious but played down nature of Howard as this conspiracy nut who has been preparing for an event like the attack for years may sound something you’ve seen countless times but Goodman adds so much to the genre trope that it’s almost an evolution of the character. The little touches like stating he’s not a pervert with a look of disgust on his face as Howard takes Michelle to a rather public toilet to one side of the bunker (as he’s forcing her to go to keep down supplies) reinforces how committed Howard is to surviving the disaster outside and it’s only him that can see the way out. The menace in Goodman’s performance is truly something to behold and should be shown to every aspiring actor & actress. Whilst some of his peers from the same time he came to prominence have been forgotten about due to semi-retirement or failure to evolve, Goodman has done nothing but improve as an actor with this sterling effort here being worthy of recognition as an example of an old dog learning impressive new tricks.

Winstead is not a slouch either, being able to turn her own ability on to keep up with Goodman. The sly twists in her performance to go from on-edge to manipulative to terrified in an early scene in the bunker is magnificent. As an example of what she can do, I imagine 10 Cloverfield Lane to put her back on the map as a hot acting talent. Whilst Gallagher Jr. is more famous for his Broadway on stage work, he throws himself into a confident and committed performance as the slightly hick-like Emmett. His back story is rather tragic and definitely adds some sympathy to what could have been a one-note character.

10-Cloverfield-Lane-02For those desperate for Cloverfield connections, there isn’t that many obvious ones that I’m aware of but I would heed attention to the specifics that Howard states reasonably early on and encourage people to think outside the box when considering the locations of the two movies. It may be a subtle link yes but the online backlash feels akin to the level of ignorant bile coupled to the third Halloween movie, which was clearly stated to be a new anthology story away from Michael Myers. Oh wait, it’s the ADD internet voice generation of 2016 which can’t do vague linkage or think for themselves that need to be told where pieces to a puzzle slot in. Cry for them, cry for them. Having found that this concept for a film has been kicking around under a few other guises, I applaud the change to make it fit into the Clover-verse as a shining example of telling stories in the same universe by changing the tone & setting and yet not relenting the previous standards set.

Outside the excellent performances and atmosphere, the events that unfold contains some head scratching moments amongst some other nitpicks. The two younger bunkermates hatch a plan for something behind the suspicious Howard’s back when it would be way easier just to kill him and plow on with no interference. They get the opportunity to take him out nicely but no. For added drama, we have to have our protagonists at risk! Coupled is a doubt of Howard’s morality and in the supposed post-humanity era our characters inhibit, all bets would be off. There is no real reason to keep this dodgy person around, apart from taking an unmentioned moral high ground. A tad unbelievable for me given the situation and the rise in danger for our heroes is too much to tolerate. I’ll be generous and give Michelle the benefit of the doubt with the ham-fisting of the ‘she’s now a fighter’ tag but how the hell she survives that plummet towards the end I don’t know. I’m all for suspension of disbelief in cinema yet 10 Cloverfield Lane has been quite grounded in reality up to that point.

A terrific psychological thriller that knocks on the door of other genres, 10 Cloverfield Lane is alot smarter than I think people would expect with a rampant intensity of the mystery of the bunker unfolding nicely. A career best performance from Goodman is more than enough to see this but the sympathetic lead in Winstead is deserving of equal praise. An unexpected gem of a well constructed and utilised bunker film that keeps on it’s course with the uncertainty coming from the real monster of this picture – humanity.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife.

Verdict Ratings 09
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