Talks about a sequel to Cloverfield rumbled for a long time. After the found footage flick turned out to be a massive success way back in 2008, questions were raised about where a sequel could go. Now, eight years later, we have this – the film’s spiritual successor, but a very different beast. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a contained pot-boiler of a drama that boasts the best cinematic performances since the start of the year.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young woman fleeing an argument with her fiancé, winds up in a car accident that leaves her unconscious. She wakes up in an underground bunker with two men – one of them, Howard (John Goodman), informs her that there has been some kind of attack that has rendered the outside air unbreathable, and that their only hope of survival is to remain inside. Despite the comforts of home and friendship with her other companion Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), Howard’s controlling and menacing nature makes Michelle want to escape.
This is a film that really benefits from the viewer knowing as little as possible – 10 Cloverfield Lane is practically dripping with tension, gripping the viewer throughout its runtime. There is a palpable sense of claustrophobia running through the picture, in part due to the premise and cinematography, but also due to the movie’s fantastic building of mood. Few movies successfully manage to invoke this level of atmosphere, a testament to the craftsmanship here. The film plays its confined setting for all its worth, and it keeps the viewer holding their breath.
A movie like this, in which the viewer spends a lot of time with only three characters, would completely fall flat were the three leads poorly acted or not believable, and that is most definitely not the case here. This movie boasts two superb performances – Mary Elizabeth Winstead is excellent as the girl stuck in this situation, struggling to cope with her new life and dreaming of escape. By aligning the viewer with her, she also helps to keep us grounded and see us through elements that could otherwise be silly or outlandish.
The standout performance here, though, is undoubtedly John Goodman’s (though when is John Goodman ever not good?). The viewer is never sure what to make of Howard – he veers from friendly uncle-type to ferocious controlling monster at the flip of a switch, and we do not know which Howard is the real one. There is a tremendous amount of doubt planted in Michelle’s mind (and, thus, that of the viewer) as to what we should make of him, and whether the disaster he speaks of is even real. Goodman’s very human turn as Howard helps fashion the film as a pressure cooker – he is sinister and in authority, and his terrifying control helps up the tautness. He is her saviour yet her menace, and it is never clear-cut how we should feel.
By making the film so focused, the viewer is encouraged to invest in the story and the characters – thus, the way the situation turns out may be all the more shocking. It is so rare for a film of this type to encourage this level of involvement while painting its characters in shades of grey – by not signposting what we should think, it ups the tension here considerably.
As with any film of this type, the ending has the potential to make or break the film. I’m not going to give anything away, but the set-up of the film will leave you either wanting a happy ending or thinking that a happy ending would be too unrealistic and rooting for something a bit darker. Depending on how you feel, the way the ending shapes out will please you or you’ll find it a touch disappointing. Either way, it is rather unpredictable and yet feels like you knew it all along – whatever the tone you’d have preferred, that is the mark of a good finish.
This film is fantastic – it knows exactly what it intends to do, and does so masterfully. The three leads make for a captivating ensemble, and the film is a gripping thriller that will have the viewer on the edge of their seats, facing the rising unease of not knowing what is true and false and questioning constantly. 10 Cloverfield Lane, though trading on the brand name, is a completely different film to the original (and a far superior one), and I fully recommend that you seek it out.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: John Goodman (Howard), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Michelle), John Gallagher Jr. (Emmett)
Running Time: 103 Mins