10 Cloverfield Lane is the type of film that film-enthusiasts love to see released. Though “Cloverfield” is in the title, this is an original sci-fi picture that held to the mystery box understanding of marketing. We did not know what to expect going into 10 Cloverfield Lane, which meant that a first time director could truly impress us, freed from the burden of a making a franchise film. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an exhilarating experience, it’s central mystery is both intriguing and terrifying and everyone involved brought their A game
After a career ranging from directing television commercials, to starring in a YouTube series, to directing the excellent short film Portal: No Escape, Dan Trachtenberg is now on the feature film scene and is one to be watched. The majority of 10 Cloverfield Lane takes place in a bomb shelter with three characters. With a set-up like that it would be incredibly easy for the film to be boring, maybe even veer into unintentional comedy. That is not the case here.
The film is directed with incredible skill. Whether it be a dinner scene where a character is about to take action, or a scene where our protagonist has to hide an item, or the simplest conversation about another character’s backstory, every scene is filled with palpable tension and pulls you into the experience. There can only be so much action when a film takes place in a bomb shelter, and it is a credit to Trachtenberg’s direction that the simplest line of dialogue can set off the audience’s nerves. We are pulled into a scene, a character will say something or look at something with intent, and our hearts start racing because we know it is about to go down.
Let me back up just a little bit. I have jumped straight into praising the filmmaking because I really don’t want to disclose too much of the plot. We didn’t even know the film existed until about two months before it’s release. As gleaned from the excellent trailer, 10 Cloverfield Lane is the story of three characters (played by John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher, Jr.) trying to survive some type of catastrophe inside of a bomb shelter. There is rationed food, board games, movies to watch, anything to stay safe from… well, you’ll just have to see the movie to know what end-of-the-world event has taken place. Like I said, the film is a Bad Robot production (read: J.J. Abrams), so the mystery box is the draw here.
We don’t have to discuss the details of the plot in order to continue to praise the filmmaking and acting on display in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an incredible protagonist for a film like this. Because of the strangeness of the shelter and its other inhabitants, we easily latch onto Winstead and she is our guide through the world. When conflicts arise or a mystery starts to unravel, I found myself rooting for her as she progresses through the film.
Winstead makes for a great protagonist, and we need to see her in more films like this. The cast surrounding her really help sell 10 Cloverfield Lane as the complete package, mainly, the excellent John Goodman. Goodman plays Howard, and good Lord is this guy creepy. He has been the conspiracy theorist for most of his life, and we’re not sure if this bomb shelter is completely necessary or not, has the end of the world really started? Whatever the case may be, Goodman is incredible in 10 Cloverfield Lane, dare I say an Oscar-worthy performance.
Because the film takes place majorly in the shelter, a character like Howard can’t just be evil/creepy, there has to be depth to the character in order for the film to be compelling. Goodman, working from the script from Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle, completely delivers on that depth. We see other sides to the typical “crazy person” character, you can see how this person arrived at his conclusions and, this is the real achievement of Goodman’s performance, you can sympathize with a character that was once thought to be insane.
Some may wonder how this film is connected to 2008’s Cloverfield. It is better to think of 10 Cloverfield Lane as an anthology film, rather than a sequel or prequel. I believe that Abrams and Bad Robot will be producing more “Cloverfield” films, they will have nothing in common except that they will be sci-fi films that rely heavily on mystery and intrigue. 10 Cloverfield Lane plays like a feature length episode of The Twilight Zone, and it is just as well-writen to be put in the same category as that classic TV show.
10 Cloverfield Lane is not just all mystery, there is a third act reveal, and it is great. Though nothing will be discussed here, the third act does finally open up the mystery box and it is pretty exhilarating. Not so much a twist, but a revelation of what we are hoping to learn. It is in this third act that Winstead fully establishes herself as an actress who needs to be the lead in many more franchise action films.
My hat is off to Abrams and Trachtenberg, they have created something truly special with 10 Cloverfield Lane, and I hope to see more from this filmmaking team. The film is independent in spirit, but sci-fi blockbuster in its production. With three great performances, a smart script, and air-tight direction, 10 Cloverfield Lane sets the standard for future “Cloverfield” movies. Hopefully the film will influence Hollywood as a whole, the more original films out there the better. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent example as to what can be accomplished when real talent is given real opportunity.