While it may only be a relation to Cloverfield in name and a similarly tense atmosphere, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a terrific début feature film from Dan Trachtenberg. The film delivers both a nail-biting cinema experience, and a captivating, dark performance from the incredible John Goodman.
10 Cloverfield Lane opens with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packing a box of things and leaving her apartment and fiancé behind. After an emotional conversation with him Michelle crashes her car, rolling down a bank with us, the audience, spinning around with her. It is quite the opening.
When she awakes she finds she is shackled to the wall of what she soon discovers is an underground bunker. The bunker belongs to Howard (John Goodman), an ex-Navy man who has built it in preparation for a Doomsday event, one which he tells her has taken place in the outside world. He claims that there has been an attack, and the air above is no longer breathable. Also inside is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a neighbour of Howard’s, who helped with construction of the bunker.
Howard’s manner is not exactly that of a welcome host, he’s more like an abusive father figure, providing for his young and contently playing a game one minute, and becoming aggressive and controlling the next; his temper exploding when he thinks he is being disrespected or the pair are “misbehaving”. Michelle is unsure whether Howard is telling the truth about what is going on outside, and she becomes increasingly concerned that he is a captor rather than a saviour.
The screenwriters have written a fantastic character with Howard. Sure he’s crazy and kind of scary, but there are enough moments of logic and clarity that you just don’t quite know what his intentions are. The mind games played by the screenwriters are incredibly effective, and like Michelle, the audience is not sure where the greatest threat really lies.
The bunker is a world within itself. Small touches like the VHS collection and the jukebox (which pumps out peppy, poppy tunes in distinct contrast with the tense atmosphere) are interesting. The film overuses a string-heavy violin score, which is far less effective in intensifying the feeling of fear than the pop tunes are.
The film hangs on Goodman’s performance, and it’s about a good of a performance as I have ever seen him give. He’s genuinely scary here, intense and incredible. He switches from warm and caring, to dark and angry in the blink of an eye. His large frame is commanding and he makes the bunker’s other two residents seem utterly defenceless in comparison.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a wonderful actor (see Smashed and Scott Pilgrim vs the World) that not enough people know about, and she’s great here – inquisitive, brave, and yet, still shit scared. John Gallagher is fine, but I feel like the character of Emmett could have been played by just about any actor.
The film’s third act cannot be discussed in this review and I would urge you not to read anything about it before you see the film for yourself. It gives a resolution to the questions in the first two acts, but for me, the resolution was less satisfying than the questions it answered. However, I do admire that the film picked a path and charged up it at full speed. It may have been tempting (and easier) to leave the mystery unsolved.
Cynics may say that the use of Cloverfield in the title is little more than a marketing ploy. Don’t let the lack of any real connection to Cloverfield put you off. This film is its own beast, chilling and entertaining in its own way.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writer(s): Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle (screenplay)
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Runtime: 105 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: March 10, 2016