10 Cloverfield Lane was much, much better than I was expecting it to be. If you have plans on seeing it you might want to stop reading this review now so you go in unspoiled. The short version is this: It’s really good, it’s probably not what you were expecting and the cast absolutely smashes it out of the park.
From this point on there are going to be spoilers so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’m going to put an image of the poster below so you don’t see anything if you just want to go to another website.
If you feel like wasting a day I recommend TV Tropes.
I won a double pass to go and see a pre-screening of 10 Cloverfield Lane and literally couldn’t find anyone else I knew who wanted to see it that wasn’t busy fulfilling their responsibilities. Stupid adulthood, making them do the responsible thing.
They missed out.
10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in a while. Yes there are some plot holes, and the ending is, uh, big…but none of that really matters because the movie hits the tone so perfectly and the cast is so good at selling their respective roles. I spent the entire movie with an elevated heart rate because director Dan Trachtenberg draws out the tension in every scene until the air is thick with menace.
The movie starts with Michelle, played to the hilt by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, leaving her fiancee and driving into the countryside. She gets into a terrible car accident, and wakes up in an underground bunker to the news that there has been some sort of terrible attack on the USA, that virtually everyone else in the country is dead, and the only reason she’s still alive is that she was pulled from the wreck of her car by doomsday prepper Howard (John Goodman) who happened to have his own underground bunker set up and ready to go.
From the get go Goodman absolutely dominates the screen. In the confined spaces of the bunker his sheer size makes him a menacing presence and Goodman lends him an intensity that’s scary in its plausibility. There are plenty of people in the world like Howard, and despite his growing paranoia, Goodman never plays him as a caricature. At least at first, he seems like a relatively kind man with some personal issues and an entirely worthwhile end of the world plan.
That kindness doesn’t last.
When Michelle finds her way out of her tiny cell/room and meets the other inhabitant of the bunker, the goofy, genuine Emmet (John Gallagher), Michelle attempts to make her escape, thinking Howard is totally off his rocker and has kidnapped her. Throughout the film it’s not clear if Howard is totally crackers or if something truly terrible has happened and he was absolutely right to make a doomsday bunker and stock it with foodstuffs.
Here’s that spoiler I was telling you about. Last warning.
It turns out both are true. There really is an attack underway on the USA and Howard is also a complete monster. I honestly thought it was going to be one or the other, and by making it both 10 Cloverfield Lane put itself into a position to do something a little different with its premise. Michelle and Emmet are effectively trapped between a sort of familiar (or at least human shaped) devil in Howard, and the unknown horrors outside the bunker.
I’d like to give special mention of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle. Her character does all the things a smart, determined person would do. I never once wondered ‘why didn’t you just…’ as she constantly makes plausible decisions and plans to keep herself and Emmet safe. Her plans don’t always work, in fact some are a disaster, but she thinks, adapts and tries again. And when things go totally off the rails she keeps thinking instead of just reacting. It’s a convincing and interesting portrayal that I bought into completely.
The ending is as I said, big, and in a less effectively paced film might have been too much, but I was so invested by the end of the film that it didn’t bother me.
The violence isn’t over the top, but it’s played for the most part as real rather than say Deadpool‘s cartoonish killing, and it’s all the more brutal because of the confined setting.
The script is excellent, and it gives the actors a lot to work with. Nothing is overstated or explained, and enough is left to audience interpretation to make it intriguing without being frustrating. Writers Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle did a superb job of pacing the dialogue and action so there are just enough lulls in the intensity to make the big moments in the film hit especially hard.
I was given a free donut before I went into the theater and I didn’t eat it because I was so wrapped up in what was happening on screen.
If that isn’t high praise I don’t know what is.