Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Release Date: March 11, 2016
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Writers: Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken (story/screenplay), Damien Chazelle (screenplay)
Stars: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Both on and off screen, there are many mysteries surrounding 10 Cloverfield Lane, which is likely exactly how producer J.J. Abrams likes it.
The film, which seemingly came out of nowhere, has positioned itself as a “blood-relative” to the original Cloverfield film, though the biggest mystery to me as I walked out of the theater was how, exactly, this film is tied to that one.
Outside of both being horror movies, the two films have very little in common. There is no shaky handheld “found footage” camera work in this film. We also never see the Cloverfield monster from the original film. 10 Cloverfield Lane is, instead, a psychological thriller that takes place almost entirely inside an underground bunker. There are connections to the original film, though they are tenuous at best. Whether or not this was always conceived as a “blood-relative” to the original Cloverfield, it was hard to shake the cynical feeling that the Cloverfield name was slapped onto this unrelated script in order to boost ticket sales.
So those of you going in looking for something similar to the original are likely to be quite disappointed. In fact, the end of the film is likely to leave you downright confused as it only further muddies exactly what the connection between the two films is. (Side note: Don’t bother hanging around in hopes of seeing a post-credits Easter egg; there isn’t one.)
All of that being said, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a rather fun psychological thriller. If you can get past the possibly-misleading marketing and judge it on its own merits, it’s a gripping story that toys with you from start to finish, keeping you guessing up until the very end.
The film stars Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman who is involved in a horrific car accident that leaves her unconscious. She wakes up handcuffed to a bed in an underground bunker. Her wounds have been bandaged up and she’s connected to an IV drip. She soon discovers she’s been taken there by Howard (John Goodman, who calmly explains that he found her on the side of the road and brought her back here to save her life. Howard tells Michelle that there’s been an attack and that everyone outside of the bunker is likely dead. They must stay underground for a year or two to be sure its safe to return to the surface.
While Michelle is (understandably) skeptical of Howard’s story, he is backed up by the other inhabitant of the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett helped Howard build the bunker and, as he explains to Michelle, when the attack happened, he fought his way inside just as Howard was getting ready to go on lock down.
Michelle isn’t sure whether to trust her fellow bunker-dwellers. Howard is patient and civil with her, but there’s something about him that leaves her feeling unsettled. She’ll start to trust him, only to have him do something to disrupt that trust. As an audience, we are also left guessing about whether or not she really can trust Howard and whether or not she’d be safer outside of the bunker than in it.
John Goodman plays Howard brilliantly. The film relies heavily on the three leads to drive the story, so a lot hinges on his ability to keep you guessing about Howard’s true character and motives. Goodman can make Howard incredibly sympathetic and endearing one moment, only to have him fly into a terrifying rage the next. It’s not an easy performance to pull off, but Goodman absolutely nails it.
I also really enjoyed Mary Elizabeth Winstead. There are long portions of the film where its just her on-screen without any dialogue. I found these moments captivating. She is able to convey a lot in her movements and expressions, so even without uttering a word, I knew exactly what Michelle was feeling.
The end of the film is a bit of a muddled mess. What feels like the climax turns out not to be the end of the film. And after the film feels like it should be over, there’s a confusing and underwhelming final sequence that felt completely out of place, which concludes with a ridiculously heavy-handed ending. I tried my best not to let the ending ruin my enjoyment of what came before it, but it was hard to shake the bad taste it left in my mouth.
Still, overall its a fun, tense horror film featuring two stellar performances. It may not be a true sequel to Cloverfield, but if you go in with an open mind (and a willingness to forgive the ending), you’ll be treated to an enjoyable thriller.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org