After watching Cloverfield (2008), I felt duped and disappointed. I had expected a great mystery/disaster movie full of intrigue and a big surprise twist, and instead I found an uninspired found-footage film that had little suspense to it at all.
Because of this, I was hesitant to see Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), which was supposedly a “blood relative” to the original film. Thank God that I did see it though;10 Cloverfield Lane is the Cloverfield movie we deserve, and it is one of my favorite films of 2016.
10 Cloverfield Lane stands completely on its own as a full and coherent film. It’s relationship to the original Cloverfield is so thin that a viewer need not have seen the original to fully enjoy and understand it. (In fact, I think having seen the first film changes the way one perceives the mystery of this film, for better or for worse).
Set in an underground bunker, a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up to find herself locked in a room after a car accident. She quickly meets an older man named Howard (John Goodman), who she believes has abducted her. Howard insists that a catastrophic chemical attack has occurred, poisoning the air in the outside world, and that the bunker is the only safe place to be. However, Michelle does not believe him until she sees something terrifying outside during a failed escape attempt.
Despite the early tension, Michelle and Howard grow to trust one another. Michelle also begins to get along with the bunker’s only other resident, a young man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) who had helped Howard construct the bunker a few years back. Michelle understands that Howard is just as wary of the stranger he let into his bunker as she is of the stranger whose bunker she is in, and the three settle down to ride out whatever is happening in the world above.
Unfortunately for Michelle, Howard begins to show signs that he isn’t quite the man he seems to be. The driving suspense of the film is the mystery of Howard’s character, whose trustworthiness swings dramatically with each new revelation. Eventually, Michelle convinces Emmett that it is better to try and brave the outside world than to stay in the bunker with Howard.
As a thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the best in recent memory. We see the movie from Michelle’s perspective throughout, giving Howard control over how much we understand about him. The close quarters and small cast (only three characters reside in the bunker, and only five make on-screen appearances at all) turn every scene into an interaction and every interaction into a masterpiece of suspenseful drama.
While Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a spectacular job as the lead, it is John Goodman who steals the show. His job as Howard is, in my book, one of the best performances of 2016 as a whole. It is indescribably brilliant and at times terrifying, and it is perfectly utilized by Director Dan Trachtenberg. Speaking of Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane is his directorial debut, making the movie all the more impressive.
With the spectacular acting of the limited cast, the masterful directing in close quarters, and the intrigue of the overall storyline, 10 Cloverfield Lane has all the making of a cult classic in the psychological thriller genre. It stands well apart from its less successful predecessor as a film that is more than capable of putting chills down your spine and raising your pulse with each line of dialogue.
Wagner’s Watchworthiness: 8/10