March 11, 2016
In early January, the Internet exploded with chatter over a movie trailer. It wasn’t for Marvel’s upcoming Civil War or DC’s mega-bro slamfest between Superman and Batman, but a small indie picture from producing partners J.J. Abrams and Drew Goddard called 10 Cloverfield Lane. Don’t mistake Lane’s quiet approach to its March 11th nationwide debut as a lack of confidence in itself, as that belies its true nature for nothing is as it seems or as you expect in this bloodline sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield. Made in secret with a main cast of three, 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers an intense, intimate thriller about trust in the face of uncertainty.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Michelle, a woman driving for parts unknown when she is involved in a terrible car accident and knocked unconscious. Awakening some time later, she finds herself in an underground bunker and seemingly rescued by two men: Howard and Emmett. Howard (John Goodman in rare-form) is the owner of the bunker who came across Michelle’s accident, and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) helped him build the bunker. With Michelle hurt, frightened, and locked underground, she has few options and lots of questions. Are these men who they claim? Do they have ulterior motives? Can she trust them if she can’t confirm what they tell her?
Having a story take place in an underground bunker might cause concern as to whether sustained tension can exist throughout the film, but director Dan Trachtenberg utilizes the limitations of the bunker– limited privacy, shared social spaces, and confined living quarters– to bring out the inherent drama caused by three people forced to live together in an extreme situation. For those concerned that Lane utilizes the same rapidly moving free-hand camerawork as the 2008 Cloverfield, they will be pleased to know that Trachtenberg defers to a slower, purposeful style that never accelerates, even as the tension does. He keeps the camera shots tight, filling the screen with the actor’s faces. Doing this keeps the audience’s focus held on each character which, in turn, amps the audience’s own responses to internal and external stimuli each character reacts to.
In addition to the camera work, Trachtenberg takes a unique approach in the storytelling by focusing on Michelle’s perspective at nearly every turn by keeping her present in almost every scene. This serves the dual purpose of forming an instant trust between Michelle and the audience while, at the same time, presenting her as a filter through which all information is passed through.
None of the film’s impressive technical achievements would have worked without the performances from the main cast. As our focal point, Winstead possesses a quiet intensity that enables her to carry the weight of Michelle with seeming ease. The emotional toll of the character comes out as naturally as one might expect within the situation, and Winstead communicates the vast range of emotions through subtle choices. The broader, more bombastic performance comes from Goodman who oscillates between patient custodian and raging adversary constantly, with only perceived intent guiding the audience to which Goodman wants to convey. Gallagher, Jr. as Emmett is a down-home boy who appears to take everything in stride. It could be argued that Gallagher, Jr.’s role is to provide comedic relief or a sounding board for the other characters but, under examination, it’s a hard call to make.
My only gripe is that the final ten minutes feel tacked on to complete a character arc rather than to serve a purpose to the story. It feels somehow illogical within the framework created in the prior hour and a half that, by not finding a more elegant dénouement, diminishes the intimate performances that came before. Despite this, I left 10 Cloverfield Lane satisfied and impressed. I expected high caliber performances from the cast, but was pleasantly surprised by the indie-feel Trachtenberg delivered. Given the high-octane explosions and camera work of the 2008 Cloverfield, my expectations were decidedly not met and I couldn’t be more pleased. Do your best to see this movie with as little information as possible and then discuss it with other movie-goers.
Then, go outside and play. After an hour and a half in a bunker, you’ll want to see the sky.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5
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