Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Rated: PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language
Films like “10 Cloverfield Lane” rely heavily on the audience not knowing more than the point of view character, so this review will avoid spoilers. Whether you’ll think this is a good movie or not depends heavily on what merits you use to judge it. There are some plot holes and the ending has drawn thoroughly mixed reactions, but the acting is superb, the cinematography is solid, and the tension just keeps cranking up.
Our point of view character is Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who wakes up after a car accident to find herself chained to the wall in a small concrete room. The room turns out to be part of an underground bunker belonging to Howard (John Goodman), who says he rescued her. He and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who is also down in the bunker, tell Michelle that there’s been an attack, and the air outside is contaminated. The bunker is safe, but they can’t go outside any time soon. Michelle doesn’t know whether to believe them or not, and neither do we.
Goodman owns this film. Howard’s motivations are unclear, and his behavior seems menacing and protective by turns, as Michelle learns bits and pieces about him and about what’s happening outside. Goodman walks a fine line that allows Howard to be consistent throughout but interpretable in different ways depending on what we know.
Opposite this engaging performance, Winstead holds her own – Michelle seems delicate at first, even fragile, but her dogged determination to survive and make it back to her friends and family gives her the impetus to break old patterns and do what she has to. Winstead handles Michelle’s arc from terrified captive to capable survivor with aplomb.
The majority of the film takes place in the underground bunker, where most of the shots are close in, giving us the claustrophobic feel of being stuck underground with two other people. Folks with a major aversion to tight spaces should beware – the bunker includes some extremely small spaces for characters to squeeze through, and those sequences are intense.
Producer J.J. Abrams has said that “10 Cloverfield Lane” is intended to be related to 2008’s “Cloverfield,” but the two share little more than part of their names, and the new film’s pre-existing screenplay was edited to bring it into the apparent franchise. There are a handful of small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references to “Cloverfield,” but the older film’s events aren’t mentioned and the technology available to the characters in both films puts them each squarely within a year or two of their release dates. Abrams is willing to straight-up lie about his films to garner publicity (see: “Star Trek: Into Darkness”), so we’ll have to wait and see what comes of this pair of films.
What you make of “10 Cloverfield Lane” will depend largely on your reactions to the somewhat tacked-on, Abrams-style big-movie last quarter of the film. The first three fourths are solid, engaging psychological thriller material, though, so if you enjoy that kind of thing and don’t mind the possibility of the end leaving an unpleasant taste in your mouth, do not miss it.