10 Cloverfield Lane review – a tense claustrophobic thriller
‘Michelle crashes her car and awakens to find herself in a bunker with two men. One of which claims the outside world has been poisoned.’
Back in 2008 Mat Reeves’ and J.J. Abrams’ brought us their found footage monster movie Cloverfield. Although you wouldn’t have known you were watching a monster movie until you went and saw the film for yourself. Due to Abrams renowned secrecy and a successful marketing campaign, where little to no clues about the film were drip fed to us including a teaser trailer with no title and a poster with that iconic image of a decapitated Statue of Liberty, information about the film was kept to a minimum. It’s an exercise in restraint that paid off as the film was well-received and financially successful, counting on the intrigue and lack of knowledge to pull an audience in wanting to have their curiosity satisfied.
Due to the film’s success the obvious rumours of a follow up started to circle around. After what must have been years, people (including myself) just stopped asking, thinking it was never going to happen. Then out of seemingly nowhere comes a film titled 10 Cloverfield Lane, another cleverly marketed film by producer Abrams’, and a debut by director Dan Trachtenberg.
There has been literally no build up to the release of this film. The first trailer came out in January, only two months before the film was shown in cinemas. In a culture where films are announced years in advance, with numerous trailers shown in between and where everyone involved is hyping up the film, it’s a bold move to go against that and just have one small trailer not revealing that much. It’s also surprisingly refreshing to be able go into a film with hardly any knowledge of what your about to see.
The film follows the character of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who after an argument with her boyfriend flees in her car. After an accident in which she is rendered unconscious she wakes up to find herself handcuffed in a concrete room with no memory of how she got there. A strange man named Howard (Goodman) tells her that there has been some kind of attack and that he brought her here to his bunker where they’ll have to stay for some time alongside fellow store away Emmitt (John Gallagher) until it’s safe to go outside.
First things first, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a direct sequel to Cloverfield (2008). It is not a continuation of that story or involve any of those characters. I’m not even convinced it’s set in the same universe. It does share similar themes: a possible apocalyptic event, an unknown threat and a general ambiguity of what’s really going on.
Even Abrams himself has described it more as a ‘blood relative’ rather than a sequel. The film even ditches the found footage format and goes for a more straight forward third person narrative. Either way it’s more of a self-contained film, which means you don’t have to see Cloverfield first, if you haven’t already, to understand what you’re watching.
In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a more low key, low budget film where most of the action takes place in one location, and apart from the big reveal at the end I would describe it more as a character driven psychological thriller.
The film even ditches the found footage format and goes for a more straight forward third person narrative. Either way it’s more of a self-contained film, which means you don’t have to see Cloverfield first, if you haven’t already, to understand what you’re watching. In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a more low key, low budget film where most of the action takes place in one location, and apart from the big reveal at the end I would describe it more as a character driven psychological thriller.
Where the film needs to particularly excel then, is in the actors’ performances, and the trio of leads all do excellent jobs. John Goodman is especially noteworthy as the ambiguous Howard. With a softly spoken voice, which sounds more menacing than it should, and short outbursts of rage it’s really hard to tell if he’s just a socially awkward conspiracy theorist or an outright threat. Goodman excels at keeping us guessing until his true colours are revealed.
Winstead’s Michelle is our eyes and ears into this world, experiencing the bunker and these people right alongside her. She plays a great heroine portraying real inner strength and vulnerability at the same time, creating a character we want to root for and see survive, which is important for a film like this to succeed. Gallagher’s Emmitt was good but I couldn’t help but feel he was there more as a plot device so Michelle could externally voice her thoughts for the audiences benefit, and to propel the narrative forward.
Regardless, all three actors do an excellent job of creating a claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere. And through their interactions gradually building up the tension between each other to boiling point. The dimly lighted bunker itself, as a confined space, also adds to that a feeling of being trapped and a sense of helplessness.
Sound is also used to a minimum which creates a real sense of dread and isolation. For a debut, Trachtenberg has done a remarkable job in creating a small but engaging world. It’s a great example of what you can do with a low budget and limited resources.
This paragraph contains a minor spoiler
If there’s one thing that I would criticise, it would be the last 10 minutes. I won’t spoil it for you but I did feel they could have left the ending more uncertain allowing us as the audience to make our own conclusions. I didn’t think there was any need to make it so clear cut. It doesn’t undo all the positive but it does change the film quite drastically and feels like it belongs in a different movie. Leaving the ending with more ambiguity would have kept in tone with the rest of the film.
’10 Cloverfield Lane is a great psychological thriller, and although it shares some DNA with 2008’s Cloverfield it can be viewed and enjoyed as a separate entity.’
I would definitely recommend this film for anyone who is looking for a break from the big franchise films, which their seems to be no escape, and for something more low key. Either way it’s worth watching for Goodman’s and Winstead’s performances alone. Just could have done with a bit more ambiguity at the end.
12 · 1h 43m · 2016.
Drama · Horror · Sci-Fi · Thriller.
Bradley Cooper · Douglas M. Griffin · John Gallagher Jr. · John Goodman · Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Damien Chazelle (screenplay) · Josh Campbell (screenplay and story) · Matthew Stuecken (screenplay and story).
infrequent strong language · moderate threat · violence.
David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.
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