Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in the process of leaving her boyfriend, suddenly becomes party to a car wreck. She awakens in a concrete room chained to the wall. An effectively desperate Winstead struggles just to reach her phone in a tense scene that culminates in the menacing introduction of Michelle’s captor Howard (John Goodman).
This early standoff between Winstead and Goodman is fascinating, although it would have played better with more quiet, as opposed to the thumping strings meant to elicit intensity. The scene accomplishes that on its own, we don’t need the constantly crescendoing score to tell us what we should be feeling.
We are then introduced to Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who plays the role of exposition for a large part of the first third of the movie. He helps explain to Michelle that Howard has put him in the fallout shelter they are in in order to protect them from contaminated air on the outside. Some sort of war began on the surface, taking out most of the population and exposing the survivors to deadly toxins.
Of course, Michelle has to take this at his word. She also has to take everything Howard says at his word, which she finds hard to do given her captured status. This creates a great psychological element to the film, steeping every word uttered in uncertainty.
Because of this uncertainty, Winstead’s character plays more of an audience surrogate role in the first half of the film, which means her character can’t open up until late. Even then, opening up is a loose way of putting it. For the most part, our characters’ pasts are concealed, for better or worse. Still, Winstead puts forth her usual strong turn.
Goodman takes what could easily have been a one-note character and gives it substance, the right amount of concealment while still showing a little depth. In some ways, his character is painted as a tragic figure, which works really well as the plot unfolds. This is all thanks to Goodman’s expertise.
Gallagher Jr. plays a likeable Emmett, though the character is written a bit too dim for believability, something that is also inconsistent throughout the film.
The group dynamic in the bunker is tonally spot-on, the entire scenario grounded in just the right amount of confusion and distrust. The dinner scene is one shining example of the tonal control the film exhibits.
The studio made sure to let viewers know that this is no direct sequel to Cloverfield, and you would be benefited by not going in to this movie expecting Cloverfield 2. This is a wonderfully tense thriller with many cringing twists and turns, but it is not a horror-thriller in the style of Cloverfield. Come for the haunting performance of Goodman, not the spinning shaky cam depiction of alien monsters that the original presented.
As far as it does stand in the Cloverfield universe, it is easily a superior, albeit radically different, film to the original. The tension is more palpable, the characters are more realized, and the stakes are more real (which is to say, more terrifying).
The only glaring issue with this film is that is does boast the Cloverfield namesake. The film could have existed in its own world, but it would likely have suffered financially without the name. Whether this is a cash grab or not, the film itself stands above its own name, and that speaks volumes to its success.
One additional minor grievance I have with the film is the change in cinematography in the final third. In a way, it hearkens back to the original by being more shaky, where it is harder to see exactly what is around the edges of the frame. And the transition makes sense in terms of where it happens in the narrative. I just enjoy the relative stillness of the movie up until that point that the change is rather jarring.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen 10 Cloverfield Lane? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)
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