10 Cloverfield Lane review: Someone should check on the neighbors
I’ve always had a weakness for a good disaster flick, including those caused by monsters, which is probably why I enjoyed the original Cloverfield so much – flaws and all. It certainly wasn’t a perfect film, but it was fun, exciting, and used the found-footage/handy-cam filming technique to bring a new spin to a classic genre. 10 Cloverfield Lane sets itself up as the distant relative-of-sorts to that film, but other than its title, this not-really-a-sequel-sequel bares little resemblance to its predecessor.
Beyond just the name, the similarities between the two films lie in the time-honored concept of using a disaster as an exploration of basic human behavior in the face of horrific and – in this case – surreal events.
The film opens with an immediate introduction to the film’s main character, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). In a nice turn of purely visual storytelling, we get her story in a quick and concise nutshell: Michelle is running.
Life and love do not appear to be playing nicely, and the flight response is her play. This choice in the writing actually presents a nice contrast to the first film, where one of the main characters finds himself determined to brave the chaos of a burning city to rescue the girl he so cruelly slighted moments before the world started exploding. In Michelle’s case, the choice to run from her relationship might have saved her from the proverbial wave of the initial disaster, but it still lands her in the infamously hellacious hand-basket just the same. And down she goes.
After surviving a brutal car accident not long into her journey, Michelle awakens to life in an underground bunker with a complicated patriarch named Howard Stambler (John Goodman), and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), an affable guy from the pre-apocalyptic neighborhood. The histories and motives of her new roommates are unknown, but it’s quickly made clear to her that leaving the bunker would mean certain death… a “fact” substantiated by various colorful theories exposited by Howard.
The three roomies must then learn to survive together and pass the time, but also accept that they are in the dark about what’s really going on in the outside world.
To complicate matters, Howard’s mental/emotional fluctuations present a serious quandary for the other two. After making a rash move in defiance of Howard’s repeated warnings, Michelle sees with her own eyes that he may not be completely wrong in his claims about the situation topside. However, remaining suspicious about certain incongruous parts of Howard’s story, she convinces Emmett that he should start questioning things as well.
Winstead is engaging and effective as Michelle, and provides a good surrogate for the audience’s fears and emotions within the story’s unsavory and unexplained circumstances. But the hats off mention has to go to Goodman, who once again shows himself to be one of the greatest character actors out there today. His performance covers the spectrum from terrifying to comical.
Playing on a deft balance of paranoia and claustrophobia, 10 Cloverfield Lane maintains a nice tension throughout, despite some lulls during the middle act. The filmmakers effectively use a nice slow-burn approach to the story, giving the audience plenty of time to breathe in the stale air of the underground bunker before introducing the more fantastical sci-fi aspects into the mix. But it’s also here that the film does lag a bit.
In a concerted effort to show the audience what life in a survival bunker might be like, director Dan Trachtenberg makes the middle section of the film feel a little too much like being in one. While this was undoubtedly intentional, it did at times feel as if the writers were still chewing on the scenery while the audience had already moved forward. Thankfully, any minor issues in this part of the film are made up by a pleasantly thrilling third act that keeps the viewer sharply pinned to the action on screen.
The camera work is smart and precise, visually conveying the energy and mechanics of the scene with a tense clarity that succeeds in eliciting truly palpable moments of suspense, and more than a few nice jumps for the viewer. And in a fitting nod to its genre, Michelle’s flight at the beginning of the film is nicely and artfully executed; featuring visuals that harkens back to Janet Leigh as Marion Crane making her run for it in the beginning of Hitchcock’s Psycho.
10 Cloverfield Lane review Conclusion
While not quite as fast-paced or epic in scope as its elder film cousin, 10 Cloverfield Lane manages to tell an engrossing story with a fraction of the budget (reportedly just $15 million) utilized by some of its popcorn competitors like Gods of Egypt or last summer’s abysmally wretched Jurassic World. It’s funny how just a little extra attention to character and some thoughtful dialogue can up the quality of your film for far less money than a giant CGI cobra or trio of circus-trained velociraptors.
Playing on this strength, 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers some true scares, emotional and visceral, and showcases strong performances from its small, but talented cast. It’s a worthy view for the big screen and a solid entry in what is shaping up to be one of Hollywood’s more interesting (albeit vague) film franchises.
10 Cloverfield Lane is rated PG-13 with a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.