Tweetable Takeaway: 10 Cloverfield Lane is sweaty-palmed, claustrophobic paranoia at its best. Tweet
Ever since the first teaser for 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE dropped, audiences have been trying to figure out “What the hell is this movie about?” The only hint we got was in the title, which connects it with the 2008 Matt Reeves-directed alien monster movie, Cloverfield, which at the time, was just as equally cloaked in mystery. But alas, the film has finally come out and we finally get to see what all the hoopla is about. Like the teaser trailer showed us, them movie is about three people trapped in an underground bunker trying to survive an outside threat — and each other. Usually when there’s a lot of hype around a movie and its ‘mysteriousness’, the outcome is more-or-less disappointing — especially these days. This is not the case with 10 Cloverfield Lane. (There may be some very, very minor spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk).
In the first five minutes, director Dan Trachtenberg wastes no time telling the audience what they’re in for. We are immediately introduced to Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She is a fashion designer, doesn’t like to leave her house without a fine bottle of alcohol, and is frantically running away from a relationship (and possibly something else). As she drives off from her big city life, we learn that a rolling blackout is affecting the city and her boyfriend Ben (a voice cameo in the form of Bradley Cooper) keeps calling her insisting that they can work things out.
While dealing with her relationship crisis, she is sideswiped by a car and put out of commission. When she wakes up, she is in a bare bones room resembling a cozy prison cell. She’s chained to pipe, with a brace on her knee and an IV in her arm. And obviously, she’s freaking out.
Enter the stern, no-nonsense Howard (John Goodman) with quietly insane eyes. He assures her that she’s okay and he is not there to hurt her and even though he is treating her like a prisoner, he insists that he is helping her and has saved her from what’s happening above ground. Apparently, something has infected the entire population and it is not safe to breathe in the air. Luckily, he was prepared for such a doomsday situation. He built a bunker, which is also home to Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a good ol’ boy who managed convince Howard to let him into his humble, self-sustaining underground abode.
And so they all try to live together like an end-of-days version of Three’s Company, but the longer Michelle stays down there, the more she starts to be suspicious of Howard’s story and his intentions. With the help of him, she makes a plan to escape the the bunker and find help elsewhere.
As his first feature, Trachtenberg joins the ranks of the almighty Bad Robot brotherhood that includes the aforementioned Matt Reeves, Drew Goddard, and the reigning king of all that is geek, J.J. Abrams — all of whom were part of 2008’s Cloverfield and have a producing credit on 10 Cloverfield Lane. So yes, both these films are related, but not directly. Abrams has said that this film is a “blood relative” of the original. If anything, based on the ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the Bad Robot camp is setting up an expanded Cloverfield universe in the vein of Godzilla.
That said, Trachtenberg packages a well-crafted sci-fi thriller that moves at a deliberate pace and builds up tension to the point of gasp-worthy anxiety. 10 Cloverfield Lane immerses you in this hellish environment of claustrophobia and non-perishable goods. From Michelle’s fashion design skills to a bottle of alcohol she decided to pack, there is a purpose to everything in the movie. It’s a little coincidental, but it’s subtle details like this that deserve a non-ironic golf clap.
With such a small cast, you’d think they’d have to work extra hard to make the story strong, but the core effortlessly handles intimate stageplay-worthy characters on a grand scale. Goodman stands out with volatile authority a la Kathy Bates in Misery while Gallagher Jr. steps in as the not-so-smart captive with a heart of gold without being so insufferable. Winstead serves up some major badassery as a determined character who knows exactly what to do rather than a damsel in distress, continuing the trend of strong female characters who can hold her own (although, it shouldn’t be a trend at all).
The thing that 10 Cloverfield Lane does so successfully – something that many movies of its ilk fail to do – is envelop the audience in a movie-going experience. The Bad Robot brotherhood certainly know how to craft a story about alien invasions without making it all about the aliens. They know how to crank out something that will please audiences and still have a certain amount of depth to it. Granted, there isn’t really anything “deep” about this, but it isn’t just a flaccid monster movie with no soul. The filmmakers here have tinkered with the formulaic to make it fun and exciting again.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer