Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.
Spoilers Within: Yes
Originally posted 21st March 2016 on Letterboxd.
Forget about Cloverfield. This film has nothing – bar a few cheeky Pixar-esque nods – that directly ties it to Cloverfield. Stop comparing this to Cloverfield. The sooner you do, the more fun you’ll have with this.
Deftly alternating between pitch-black comedy to white-knuckle terror at the drop of a hat, 10 Cloverfield Lane is as tightly plotted and claustrophobic as the bunker itself. It’s a Schroedinger’s Cat of a screenplay: the outside world is both dead and alive; John Goodman’s Howard is both a sane and insane; the bunker is both a prison and a safe haven. All of these eventualities are true until proven, and to the credit of the brilliant screenplay, each one is given its answer when the characters and the audience need them.
With a film where the majority of screen-time is isolated to one location, it’s up to the cast and their personalities to keep the film moving, and fortunately, the trio of actors are supremely compelling to watch. John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. are all superb, bringing terror and humility in their respective roles, balancing the comedy and tension perfectly. There’s seldom a scene that passes without a moment of revelatory acting from all three, so props to Monika Mikkelsen’s sharp casting.
For something set almost entirely in a bunker, by decking it out with a fish-tank, colourful trinkets and cozy decor, the cinematography was far from drab. The only moment that I can recall looking slightly dull was the opening, but on reflection it seems that that was an intentional decision to reflect the supposed mundanity of Michelle’s (Winstead) life. Jeff Cutters enclosed photography was perfect, supplying enough visual information as possible, but holding back so as not to give too much away. Its this restraint that can be attributed to every member of the cast and crew, and they should all be proud of their individual (and combined) achievements.
There were a few key scenes that did stretch believability a little further than I’d have liked. Had there been some – no matter how slight – reference to Howard’s poor hearing (I’m fabricating my own character trait here), the fact that Michelle and Emmett were able to have mid-level conversation about fashioning a gas-mask and hazard suit in a small, echoey bunker may not have bothered me as much as it did. The same can be said of Michelle’s ability to create and hide this constructed apparel without raising any alarms until the plot dictated it. These are only minor grievances, though, which were only a bother because the rest of it assured me that they would have been easily fixable oversights.
Perhaps what stops it from being a perfect film – apart from the aforementioned – is the last act, and though it was absolutely in line with the deliberate pacing, it abruptly shunned it’s subtleties in favour of its sci-fi trappings. It was an exciting ending, there’s no doubt about that, but the previous 90 minutes were so nuanced in the performances and the narrative that this sudden change was jarring. The film could always have ended with the realisation that there were aliens – maybe at the moment Michelle stands atop her car and looks toward the cornfield – but then that’d negate the excitement of the final moments. As the tagline says: ‘Monsters come in many forms‘, and in Howard we had a more terrifying monster than anything alien or other-worldly, so it’s a shame that it went in that direction, but it’s not a total loss.
10 Cloverfield Lane was an unexpectedly surprising and thrilling debut feature with a terrific cast and great scope. If this is the potential franchise starter that there have been whisperings of, then I can’t wait to see what comes next.