10 Cloverfield Lane has been on my list of films to see for some time now, but I had not gotten the chance due to something else always getting in the way. I was also concerned about whether I would be ill informed, not having seen the original. I can confidently say that viewership of the original Cloverfield is not necessary. I was expecting another found footage type spectacle (akin to the original film), but instead I got a tense, atmospheric, and deeply engaging thriller that’s as disturbing as it is entertaining.
10 Cloverfield Lane is about things…..happening. Honestly the less you know of the plot the better the experience will be for you. Suffice to say, it has an excellent extremely focused narrative. The film revolves around three people surviving in a bunker after an “Event” has happened, and the dynamics of their relationships as time passes. Again, having not seen the first film is completely irrelevant. Unless there are Easter eggs in the background that I did not pick up on, the film appears to be a 'sidequel'. That is to say, a film set in the same universe as the original Cloverfield, but has almost nothing to do with the characters or story of the original. 10 Cloverfield Lane is its own contained story, and it works exceptionally well.
The entire film has only five characters, and one appears briefly in the beginning as a disembodied voice on a telephone. The three principal characters are all given much appreciated depth and the actors who portray them have excellent chemistry together. Mary Elizabeth Winstead portrays our lead protagonist, Michelle, who is a clever and resourceful woman desperate to survive. John Gallagher Jr. plays Emmett, a regretful, naive, but well-meaning associate of Howard’s. While both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. perform well in their respective roles, it is John Goodman as Howard who really shines. His nuanced performance is nothing short of astounding. A mysterious figure who literally crashes into the story, his towering presence is felt in nearly every scene. He is simultaneously terrifying and tragic, embodying both the worst and best aspects of human nature. Goodman has always been an underrated actor, and hopefully this performance will finally get him his first Oscar nomination.
Dan Trachtenberg, in his directorial debut, does a fine job. The film creates a deeply unsettling vibe that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the outset. This is partly because of the claustrophobic setting and also due to the way the narrative unfolds. The mysteries at the heart of the film are revealed to Michelle piecemeal, and since the camera hardly ever leaves her side, we learn and and discover as she does, which keeps the interest high. The film is a taut tense experience and I found myself reminded of Sicario, especially in regards to its atmospheric tension and use of sound. Trachtenberg uses sound like a skilled horror movie director, providing jump scares that amplify or relieve the effective tension building. The simple sound of a door opening, for example, becomes a disquietingly foreboding motif. In addition, due to the tightly focused narrative, and well developed characters, the viewer really becomes attached to Michelle and hopes she can survive her terrifying ordeal.
10 Cloverfield Lane is an adept portrayal of survival gone awry. It’s a film that derives much of its excitement and enjoyment from its human element. 10 Cloverfield Lane makes great use of its acting talent, direction, and editing to form an extremely cohesive and effective film. Its conclusion is both rewarding and fitting as it doesn’t sacrifice any of the tense atmosphere it worked so effortlessly to build. Having not seen the original, I can’t say that it’s a “worthy sidequel”, but I can say that it is a fantastic thriller in its own right.
TLDR: 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense claustrophobic thriller that benefits from the excellent performances of its leads. 4.25/5 Stars.