10 Cloverfield Lane is an intense, claustrophobic, thrilling and terse film. As far as a tie in to Cloverfield, do not go into this film expecting anything to do with a giant monster taking down New York. There is no shaky cam. There are no unlikeable yuppie assholes that you spend the entire run time hoping to get eaten. Instead, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a careful and considered film. It spends time with three occupants and delves into their complex emotional states as they live and deal with what seems to be the apocalypse. These glances into their individuals realities and perceptions take place in a limited context, with a glance or with a single sentence. The opening sequence is a prime example, here we have a young woman (Michelle played by the always fantastic Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who is seen abandoning her entire life. Frantically driving away her problems, a fight with her boyfriend, she is abruptly run off the road and wakes in a bunker. All of this takes place with no words. Just accompanying our heroine as her story begins.
In the bunker we find our other two leads, Emmet-a likable slacker who helped build the bunker they are staying in-and Howard-the conspiracy theorist/survivalist who turns out to be right. Emmet is played by the always affable John Gallagher Jr, he’s bearded here so you might not instantly recognize him as Jim Harper from The Newsroom, but-as Emmet- he really helps to offset the rising tension in the film and his casting was a solid choice. The real reason we are here to see this film though is John Goodman. Let’s all be honest about that. We want to see him be a total psychopath and torture and maim and… except that is not what you will get here. What you will get is a brilliant performance by a brilliant actor that will always keep you guessing throughout the entire runtime of the film. Goodman (channeling Kathy Bates ala Misery) plays Howard as a lonely but convicted man, one whose beliefs and convictions lost him his family but ultimately saved his life. The film early on confirms that Goodman is not wrong, which turns him from coming off as some kind of sexual deviant who captured Michelle for his own sick perverted ends to a broken and hurt savior. The tension is palpable in almost every scene, and keeps growing and changing as the dynamic of the group grows and changes. Goodman’s Howard is at the center of this tension as his need to control the situation at all times leads the group towards schism.
I won’t say more about it here, as to do so will be to spoil the film. Instead I want to talk about Winstead’s character Michelle and the point of the film as a whole: Growth and the confrontation of the things that hold you back. In this case, it is Michelle’s self-professed need to run from her problems at all times. This desire to run is her go to at all times, she is running when she has her accident. She tries to run from Howard, several times, and ultimately her resourcefulness in running away helps her to confront and overcome disaster and certain death. We get to see that growth, which is brilliant. She goes from frantically running at the first sign of trouble to carefully considering her options and choosing to run out of necessity instead of blind panic. She is a strong, smart and likeable character and only becomes more so as the film rolls on and we get a sense of how deep and relatable her character is.
None of this character growth, nor the amazing script by Campbell, Stuecken, and Chazelle, would work if the film was not well directed. The whole thing takes place, the batshit ending aside, takes place in three rooms. Dan Trachtenberg, who made a splash with his Portal fan film a few years back, is assured and brilliant. The bunker feels like an entire world in his lens and the pacing keeps the film from ever feeling stale.
When you combine it all: the writing, the characters, the actors, and the directing, you get one of the best films to come out so far in 2016 and one that will be on a number of top ten lists at the end of the year, I imagine. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very very very good film and absolutely worth your time.