The less you know the better when it comes to experiencing the taut, terrifying character-driven horror that is 10 Cloverfield Lane.
10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t your conventional blockbuster sequel. Up until January this year, its entire existence had remained a complete mystery to the general movie-going public. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and produced by JJ Abrams under a watertight shroud of secrecy and misdirection, the film isn’t even a direct continuation of the original Cloverfield; it’s more of a distant ‘blood relative’ that shares ideas and motifs with its predecessor rather than characters or settings.
After a brief prologue, the film transports us to a claustrophobic underground bunker somewhere in the heartland of America. Inside, a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakes to find herself shackled to the wall and locked behind an ominous metal door. An imposing man named Howard (John Goodman) enters and explains that there has been a devastating, indiscriminate attack aboveground. He tells Michelle that everyone else is dead, and that in order to survive she needs to stay inside the bunker with him and Emmett (John Gallagher Jnr), an acquaintance who helped Howard build his shelter.
That’s as much as I’m going to give you with regards to the plot. To preserve the filmmakers fervent desire for secrecy, I advise knowing as little as possible before heading to the cinema. What I can tell you is this; unlike the destructive kaiju mayhem of the first film, 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps the action fairly contained within its confined domestic setting. It’s a claustrophobic character-driven thriller that explodes with bursts of emotion and pulse pounding sequences in the second half. Like many Abrams properties, the slow build-up is more rewarding than the eventual payoff, but it’s the sublime crafting of thick, suffocating tension that makes 10 Cloverfield Lane worth your time and money.
Goodman gives his best performance in years, transforming from the loveable, huggable character actor that we know and love into something far seedier and all the more sinister. It’s astounding how quickly his character gets under your skin. The film continually puts across the question of whether Howard is all there, and much of this ambiguity comes from Goodman’s wildly unpredictable performance.
Equally as great is Winstead as the scrappy and resourceful Michelle. Even with the small amount of background that we’re given, Michelle feels like a three-dimensional and flesh-and-blood character with depth and a clearly defined arc. She drives the plot forward and actively works to question and challenge her situation. It’s effective writing that affords Winstead a lot of material to work with, as well as offering the thin plot extra layers of captivating moral quandaries.
Trachtenberg’s deft direction is impressive for a debut feature film, and he expertly handles the multitude of intersecting genres that the taut screenplay negotiates. The film skips between B-movie horror, spooky sci-fi and dark comedy throughout its lean 105-minute runtime, with the shifts in tone anchored by an impressive score by Bear McCreary.
The Verdict: 8/10
A short and sharp mixture of multiple genre movies that is surprisingly economical and effective at crafting cerebral suspense, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very different breed to its predecessor – and, I daresay, is actually the superior film as a result.
10 Cloverfield Lane is in cinemas across Australia now
This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.