10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, USA, d. Dan Trachtenberg, 103 Minutes)
by Jesse Stringer
10 Cloverfield Lane came into the public consciousness as abruptly as a new Beyoncé album. About midway through January, a trailer for this film suddenly dropped online with a March 2016 release date, and die hard fans of the original Cloverfield went crazy. There was lots of excitement, but also lots of questions. How did this film go through production with essentially no one knowing about it? How is this going to connect to the first film? But most importantly, will 10 Cloverfield Lane be good, or just a cheap cash grab? After seeing the film, it’s safe to say it’s not good. It’s great; and possibly better than its predecessor.
What can be said about 10 Cloverfield Lane that isn’t saying too much? It’s a film that warrants lots of discussion and debate from its audience; that’s half the fun of the experience. So to respect the film and the wishes of the producer, J.J. Abrams, this review will not delve into any spoilers or plot details. An audience should see this film as blindly as possible, for that will make the film that much better. However, as a warning, if anyone is expecting this to be a direct sequel to the original Cloverfield, then they will be greatly disappointed. Unlike the first film, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not shot like a found footage movie, it’s kept locked down for the most part and it plays out like a traditional narrative film would. Which isn’t to say the film isn’t clever or original, because it certainly is. The film is also a completely separate entity to Cloverfield for the most part. This is likely due, in large part, to the fact that the screenplay for the movie was originally written as a stand alone piece titled “The Cellar”, with absolutely no relation to Cloverfield.
It can only be assumed that someone working on this film, possibly J.J. Abrams, read the original script and thought they could re-work it and turn it into an indirect Cloverfield sequel. A big worry here is that many times, studios can ruin a great script by trying to transform it into a piece of an already existing franchise. Thankfully, the writers Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Whiplash writer/director, Damien Chazelle, did a great job blending the original screenplay with the elements necessary to make the Cloverfield aspects fit cohesively into this story, or at least one can assume so. One of the best things about 10 Cloverfield Lane’s script is that it is nearly impossible to predict what is going to happen from scene to scene. The audience is thrust into this, kind of terrifying, situation with no answers or hints to anything going on. It is strange for a blockbuster film to be able to pull this off successfully, and on top of it, have it all take place in such a claustrophobic environment. Similar to last years Ex Machina, the film plays out like a great stage play. Nearly the entire movie takes place in an underground bunker, with only three characters to follow. All three of the film’s characters are extremely fascinating, and the actors playing them only exemplify this point.
The trio that fill out the cast of 10 Cloverfield Lane all deliver wonderful performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman give some of the best performances of their career here, particularly Goodman. John Goodman manages to play a role that is so sinister yet sympathetic, that the audience is just as torn as Winstead’s character as to whether they can trust him, or not. It’s a very layered performance and definitely one of his most memorable characters since The Big Lebowski. Winstead also does some excellent work here playing the role of Michelle. Her character is usually always one step ahead of the audience. She’s strong, resourceful and intelligent; which is so refreshing to see these days. Her performance is very believable and layered as well. Finally we have John Gallagher Jr., whose character is certainly not as flashy as the other two, but with the material he had, he managed to build a great character with far more depth than one might expect. His character provides a lot of the comedic relief and even some of the film’s more emotional moments. Having been a fan of Gallagher Jr. since his stint on Broadway in the musical Spring Awakening, it’s nice to see his career moving in the right direction and more great things should be expected from him in the future.
Possibly the most impressive aspect of 10 Cloverfield Lane however, may be the direction from Dan Trachtenberg. 2016 has been proving to be “the year of promising first time directors”, with films like The Witch, Deadpool, and now 10 Cloverfield Lane. Trachtenberg was hired after someone had seen his second short film, Portal: No Escape, based on the video game. It is inspiring as a filmmaker to see a no-name director get a job as big as this and go above and beyond what was expected going into this film. 10 Cloverfield Lane is directed with excellent precision. The entire film is extremely tense, suspenseful, and it’s all shrouded in mystery. He took what was likely already great material and took it to new levels putting this film in the ranks of other great films of its kind. On top of all this, the film features exceptional cinematography and production design, a great score, and tight editing. The only real problem the film has is in it’s third act. Without saying too much, the ending feels almost like it comes out of nowhere; sort of shoehorned in to make for something seemingly more exciting, when in actuality was very out of place and confusing in the movie they were setting up. But it wasn’t enough to really effect the enjoyment of the film in any way, it’s really even not that bad in retrospect. The third act likely could’ve been the result of the film’s re-write, but no one will likely ever know.
It seems like the Cloverfield franchise isn’t interested in making films that directly follow one another. Instead, they may be going for a Black Mirror type approach, where each new chapter in the saga may have nothing to do with the other films, but rather tells stories with similar themes and tropes. And that is perfectly fine if all of the films end up like 10 Cloverfield Lane. This is a great film, with all of its elements working in tandem to create an awesome film experience that likely will be enjoyed by everyone. It is certainly a gem. Go see it.