Tentpole films are expected to market themselves anywhere from six to 12 months before release in order to stay in the public consciousness. This can either aid or cripple a film before it even comes out. In the case of an upcoming release, “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” one of its final trailers was riddled with plot details that could be considered spoilers. Now when I’m in the theater I’ll be expecting that specific moment to happen instead of being surprised. It’s an extremely rare occurrence nowadays to walk into a genre picture completely cold. But as we’ve seen with the unexpected arrival of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” great things come in small packages.
If you’re planning on seeing this movie for yourself without knowing any details, this review will contain MILD SPOILERS, nothing big but rather small plot details that set up the characters. You’ve been warned!
Recovering from the aftermath of a devastating car accident, Michelle [Mary Elizabeth Winstead] wakes up confused and frightened inside of what looks to be an underground bunker. Inside of this bunker is enough food, water and supplies to last a few years at the very least. It’s only a matter of time until she converses with her rescuer in the form of Howard [John Goodman], an intelligent, yet off-kilter conspiracy theorist that informs her that the world she knows up above is either dead or dying due to a widespread attack. Not sure how to react to the overwhelming news, Michelle remains cautious at all times along with fellow companion Emmett [John Gallagher Jr.], another stow away. As time goes on, true identities bubble to the surface as an outside appearance is only the skin of who someone truly is and what they’re capable of under strenuous circumstances. So get cozy!
First things first, if you’re expecting a straightforward sequel to “Cloverfield,” you will be sadly disappointed. The best way to go about “10 Cloverfield Lane” is to walk into it as an anthology film that stands on its own with typical J.J. Abrams’ easter eggs for the hardcore fans. As a “Twilight Zone-esque” psychological thriller that stands on its own, there’s no way to describe my joy other than pure excitement.
An opening sequence should set the tone for what is to ensue and from the second the bombastic orchestration kicked in during the opening logos, I knew I was in great hands. Almost like “The Shining,” the score is ominous, foreshadowing the dread that is yet to befall our protagonist. What follows is one of the best examples of sound editing/mixing I’ve ever seen that presents itself in the form of the opening credits.
From this juncture to the end of the film, my heart was racing like a jackhammer because of the outstanding performances by the actors and direction by Dan Trachtenberg. Not a single scene is unnecessary or out of place. Taut thrills inside an incredibly claustrophobic environment reveals the true horror of the human psyche when it’s pushed to its breaking point.
John Gallagher Jr. impresses, but the two stand outs John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The crux of the film revolves around their interactions with one another and you buy every second of it.
Michelle is an empowered female character who strives to stay one step ahead of Howard when investigating her suspicions. But that doesn’t imply that she’s always taking the best course of action; she has her vulnerable moments that make her who she is. Essentially, we’re seeing her claustrophobia play out right before our very eyes, not knowing what to make of her savior.
To designate Howard as her “savior” comes with some trepidation due to his violent temper and aggressive attitude. Whether there’s something toxic outside or not, the fact of the matter is that Howard is emotionally unbalanced, not knowing how to properly interact with others. Goodman gives an outstanding, near Oscar-worthy performance of this disturbed man that can switch personalities on the flip of a dime. Every moment he was onscreen, I felt like I needed to take a shower because I felt so disgusted while watching him.
This inner sickness transcended throughout, even in pieces Goodman wasn’t in because of his presence, knowing that he could be lurking around the corner. Feeling as sick as I did made every shocking twist near unbearable in the best possible way.
As his directorial debut, Dan Trachtenberg hits it out of the park and beyond the stars. With a limited budget, he’s allowed to think outside the box and get creative with his characters. In a bottle movie such as this, the characters must be fully realized and the dialogue they’re supplied with is sublime.
If you don’t get the impression by now that I loved “10 Cloverfield Lane,” I’m not sure what else I could say to convince you. The name “Cloverfield” has universal meanings and if anything, this film sets up an anthology series that has a bright future on the horizon. Until then, “10 Cloverfield Lane” remains a tense, layered character drama that keeps you constantly on edge equaling out to one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in years.
Matt Bilodeau can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org