Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Editor's Note: "10 Cloverfield Lane" is a film best seen blind. I've avoided spoilers and all but some basic plot and character details from early in the film, but you may want to consider seeing the it before reading below. Proceed at your own peril.

"10 Cloverfield Lane" is a relentlessly suspenseful thriller that has been called a spiritual successor to 2008's "Cloverfield." Aside from some shared themes, this is a very different movie. Sprawling New York City ruins are traded for the claustrophobic intimacy of a bunker 40 feet beneath the end of the world. When heroine Michelle first wakes in the bunker, we know only a few facts of the events transpiring beyond its padlocked door. We know less about the man who holds the keys. The uncertainty is anxiety-inducing. There's no rampaging monster in "10 Cloverfield Lane;" there might be something much worse.

In the opening scenes of the film, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packs a bag and hits the road, leaving a ring and whatever else of her life she couldn't carry behind for good. She drives through the night, bound for who knows where, until she is sent careening off the road when another vehicle smashes into her. The sequence is harrowing. You know a movie is going to be good when the opening titles elicit gasps from the audience.

When Michelle wakes, she is locked deep below ground. Howard, played by John Goodman, pulled Michelle from the wreckage and brought her to this, his personal, self-sustaining Noah's ark. He believes his flood has finally come in the form of a massive, civilization ending attack, origin unknown. Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr), a local and the bunker's only other resident, is his good-natured disciple. Michelle asks to leave. Impossible, they tell her; the air is poison. She asks to call her family, but why bother? They're surely dead. Michelle is not convinced.

The fate of the world above is one of the mysteries that unfolds during the film, but in same way "Cloverfield" is not a movie about a giant monster, "10 Cloverfield Lane" is not a movie about the end of the world. The tension in this film is propelled by Michelle's uncertainty; the less certain she is, the more anxious we feel. There's nothing she feels less certain about than her self-proclaimed savior and his intentions.

There's something off about Howard. He talks at length about his generosity and repeatedly demands gratitude from the bunker's two other residents. He is obsessed with rules, describing desired behavior with words like obedience. He seems to despise Emmett. At times, Howard is genuinely frightening; even in scenes where he is absent, his domineering presence permeates the bunker, owing entirely to John Goodman's brilliant performance. His delivery is simple and matter-of-fact, but somehow evasive. You can see the gears turning in Howard's head without ever coming close to understanding what he's thinking. He's almost impossible to read - a potentially unstable enigma who isn't obviously friend or foe. This is the gripping mystery at the heart of "10 Cloverfield Lane."

Goodman's performance steals the show, but his two cast mates are up to the challenge of matching him. Winstead shows off an impressive range in her portrayal of the headstrong and smart Michelle, notably in her first bunker scene, where Michelle wakes to find herself chained to the wall. Michelle's struggle to understand what has happened and then her anguish as she concludes she is being held captive is gut-wrenching. Gallagher's Emmett is kind and funny, injecting much needed levity to an otherwise nerve-wracking film. He and Michelle share a natural chemistry that makes him immediately likable, but this is a film about uncertainty and paranoia and the film invites us to question even his trustworthiness.

The film's already tense script is elevated by top notch music and sound direction. This is composer Bear McCreary's first feature film and it's a knock-out, unsurprising when you consider his previous work on "Battlestar Galactica" and "The Walking Dead." The music oozes atmosphere. The opening scene is entirely free of dialogue, leaving the score to do the heavy lifting of mood setting. By the end of the sequence, I was already gripping my drink a little harder than usual. Generally, sound plays a crucial role in the film's tension. I don't typically notice sound design, but my heart skipped a beat every time a door opened in "10 Cloverfield Lane." It's outstanding.

What else can I say about this excellent film? The ending has been the source of some controversy. I don't dislike the ending, but do understand the complaint. Without spoiling anything, I'll simply note that the finale starts with a shift in tone and generally doesn't play to the strengths of the film that preceded it. For me, "10 Cloverfield Lane" recovers by the time the credits roll. I left thrilled and excited to see it again.

"10 Cloverfield Lane" is tense and tight, the kind of thriller that makes you forget to breathe. I strongly recommend you see this movie.

Score: 5/5

Post a Comment