10 Cloverfield Lane is the spiritual successor to 2008’s Cloverfield and the directorial debut of Dan Trachtenberg. To give away the plot of this film is to give away a lot of the fun there is to be had upon your first viewing. Instead of talking about the specific plot points addressed in the film, this review will focus on the characters and the type of tension that 10 Cloverfield Lane excels at creating. It is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of this film top go in knowing as little about it as possible.
Marry Elizabeth Winstead stars as the film’s protagonist Michelle, a young woman whose car is totalled in rural Louisiana after a collision with a large truck. She awakens shackled to the wall of an underground bunker owned by the absolutely chilling and yet charming Howard Shambler excellently portrayed by John Goodman. Rounding out the cast is John Gallagher Jr as Emmett. Within the opening minutes of the film the audience is taught to question Shambler as he informs Michelle that a devastating nuclear or chemical attack has made the air above ground uninhabitable with a straight face and that they will have to stay underground for an indeterminate amount of time. This is probably the most bare-bones outline of the plot that I can give without spoiling any of the fantastic reveals, character interactions or subtle hints that help guide the audience through 10 Cloverfield Lane’s twisting and bending narrative.
Let’s talk about Michelle as a character, she takes the archetypal “fumbling clueless thriller female protagonist” trope and tosses it into a dumpster fire within seconds. She is resourceful, fierce, determined, quick witted and usually one step ahead of the audience. During my viewing of the film, I found myself cheering for Michelle and thinking “atta’ girl” when in other thrillers there are moments when the audience just can’t but help groan at the main characters actions. Over the course of the movie I could clearly see the gears moving as Michelle plots her next move, and Marry Elizabeth Winstead’s performance conveys the character’s motivations and emotions excellently even though she has very little dialogue to do so.
Howard Shambler, portrayed as by John Goodman is an absolutely paranoid prepper who constantly swings from being on the edge of paranoia about the end of civilization to raving madman, to seemingly gentle patriarch at any given time. It is this shift in tone that gives Goodman’s character an air of uncertainty that makes him downright uncomfortable to be in the presence of . His unstable nature and subsequent actions also are one of Michelle’s driving motivations to not only escape the bunker but also discover some of the darker secrets buried beneath the farmhouse. It is not fair to say that Goodman steals the show with this performance, as I feel Michelle is a much more developed and interesting overall, but he certainly commands attention for almost every moment he is on screen.
If you are coming into 10 Cloverfield Lane expecting a direct sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Matt Reeves, the director of the original, and executive producer JJ Abrams always said that they wouldn’t do a sequel unless they found the right material. Even if 10 Cloverfield Lane started life as another projected (titled ‘the cellar’) it contains the elements that made the original film so great: Viewing the effects of a larger than life event through the lens of a small number of characters as they attempt to navigate an ever changing situation. For long-time fans of the original, there are several “blink and you’ll miss it” details that help tie 10 Cloverfield Lane into the universe of the original via the 2007 ARG. If Bad Robot is taking the anthology route with the Cloverfield brand and putting out small scale thriller / sci-fi flicks that explore the human condition under extreme stress let’s hope it doesn’t take them another 8 years to put out another film. Don’t mind me, I’m just going to grab another Slusho….