Reviewing 10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the more difficult tasks I’ve been assigned to write here at Modern Horrors (even though I asked for it). It’s promotion, like most J.J. Abrams flicks has been very deliberate and focused. Because of that, describing certain aspects of the plot can be considered a spoiler and revealing too much would be a shame, because the mystery surrounding 10 Cloverfield Lane is likely what will make it your next favorite horror movie.
What I can tell you is that Michelle who’s played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead wakes up in a bunker and is being held against her will. As she moves about and begins to better understand her situation so we do as the audience. Because of this forced perspective the plot unspools at a satisfying rate, each twist punctuated with a very human reaction. Michelle meets her savior/captor in Howard portrayed brilliantly by John Goodman and also Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) whom has his own reasons for being in the bunker.
The chemistry among the three plays out exceptionally well with Howard’s erratic personality clashing against Emmett’s more laid back disposition. Michelle lands neatly in between and ends up carrying the emotional baggage for both. Howard is particularly convincing as Michelle’s jailer. Goodman’s role deftly avoids stereotypical pitfalls, he’s overbearing, but not over the top. And Winstead does a great job as a resourceful yet cautious damsel in distress. Her quick thinking persona is a refreshing change of pace in a genre that can dumb down final girls to help story pacing.
As the film moves along, small pockets of humor are used to deflate the building tension. For every nail-biting moment we’re served with a very human one that reminds us that these are still just regular people in the same confusing situation. The tagline for the film is “monsters come in many forms” and in 10 Cloverfield Lane they very much do. But there is a base human quality to the writing that really makes each decision believable, albeit horrifying in it’s own way.
One of the most impressive aspects of 10 Cloverfield Lane is how the story is conveyed, every interaction plays out like a psychological game of cat-and-mouse. First time director Dan Trachtenberg is clearly a student of Hitchcock, you can see it in his framing, and in how he manages the focus in each scene. Sound is another aspect that Trachtenberg gets right. Whether setting the mood with some oldies out of the bunker’s jukebox, or the deafening sound of a gunshot, 10 Cloverfield Lane might be one of the first movies I can recommend to watch in iMax purely based on sound direction.
Often times directors fall into two camps, some get the hell out of the way and allow for the characters and stories to be absorbed with very little interference. And others like Trachtenberg fall into the other camp. 10 Cloverfield Lane has his prints all over it, while Michelle acts as the eyes and ears of the film, Trachtenberg is the brain. There are scenes so carefully crafted they would make M. Night Shyamalan proud.
My initial impression of the trailer, left me a bit disheartened to learn that 10 Cloverfield Lane was no longer going to be a found footage film, but after seeing the film this switch makes complete sense. Not only do we have a much more robust human drama at the center than the original Cloverfield, the film is almost an entirely different genre than the first. That’s not to say this isn’t a horror film, 10 Cloverfield Lane is very much trying to scare you, but it’s also toying with its audience, revealing details and wrapping them around new mysteries as it story progresses. When the film comes to a head, the very human drama gives way to the terror of dealing with what the hell’s going on. But this climax is another aspect that I refuse to touch, it’s something you should experience for yourself.
With 10 Cloverfield Lane Dan Trachtenberg tells a story about ordinary people in every extraordinary events. There’s mystery, intrigue, humor, and most importantly, good old fashion storytelling. See it.
10 Cloverfield Lane is in theaters now.
10 Cloverfield Lane [Review]
10 Cloverfield Lane wraps a thrilling tale around a J.J. Abrams mystery box and marks a triumph directorial debut for Dan Trachtenberg. Highly recommended.