From director Dan Trachtenberg (Kickin’, Portal: No Escape) and producer J.J. Abrams (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens) comes 10 Cloverfield Lane, a ‘spiritual successor’ to 2008’s monster-thriller Cloverfield. While you’d not be crazy to think this a direct sequel, Trachtenberg takes a very different approach to filmmaking and storytelling to bring us a movie that is both unrelated and far superior to its predecessor.
After walking out on her, presumed, fiancée, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself in a car crash heading west of her home in New Orleans. Waking up chained in a dingy basement room, Michelle discovers that she has been rescued from a terrible apocalyptic attack on planet Earth. Her captor Howard (John Goodman), who has spent years preparing for such an event, assures her safety from the ‘poisonous’ air above in his fallout bunker. Along with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) the three must learn to survive in close quarters with a limited supply of food, air and water. But all is not quite as it seems, when Michelle and Emmett become leery of Howard’s suspicious past. Suspense and uncertainty ensue as we discover the truth in this gripping, claustrophobic feature.
Perhaps the finest moments of drama and tension in this movie come from John Goodman, whose character Howard is mysterious and frightening. With almost no warning, the atmosphere of a scene can change from light-hearted and uplifting to devastatingly terrifying; Goodman’s abounding voice and eerie presence lend to the uneasiness of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and as his intentions are slowly uncovered the audience shares with his captees a sense of dread. At their first meal at the table, we experience Howard’s hot temper, which Goodman delivers effortlessly yet convincingly. Winstead and Gallagher are solid in this acting threesome. Despite its small ensemble, 10 Cloverfield Lane captures moments of genuine emotion, as is the case in a scene with Michelle and Emmett discussing his troubled past. Something Trachtenberg does so masterfully is convey the human condition, and although there are moments of cinema-screenplay-tropes they are outshone by the outstanding acting in this movie.
Stylistically, 10 Cloverfield Lane is simple yet effective. Taking place almost entirely in Howard’s safe house, the cinematography is convincingly claustrophobic. Despite its homely facade, the bunker is a prison that’s prisoners would risk certain death to escape. In a scene where Michelle climbs through an air vent to fix the filtration system, we are reminded of the characters’ isolation as she looks longingly through a window to the outside world. Trachtenberg brilliantly evokes that sense of entrapment that frightens and worries his audience.
Thinking about the tag line ‘Monsters Come in Many Forms’, it becomes clear that Trachtenberg is uninterested in the ‘real monsters’ of 2008’s Cloverfield. Conversely, the monsters in 10 Cloverfield Lane are found in the inhumanity of its characters, and in the imaginations of its audience. With a comparatively low budget of $15m, Trachtenberg shows how much he can do with so little. In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane’s strengths are in its cinematic simplicity, making it one of the strongest releases of 2016 thus far.
Regrettably, Trachtenberg has not received the same PR limelight that producer Abrams has. Whose name is at the top of the poster? You guessed it. A little film called Star Wars may have had something to do with that.
Reviewed by Oliver Cobb