In “10 Cloverfield Lane,” it’s not the monsters that will kill you’ it’s the overwhelming paranoia that can arise from claustrophobic situations that will do the deed with more horror and suspense.
“10 Cloverfield Lane,” which follows up the 2008 thriller “Cloverfield,” that saw dangerous looking creatures rampaging through Manhattan is replaced by a queasy, close quarters confrontation between a frightened young woman and the husky, threatening man who claimed he had saved the woman from a certain unseen event. The advertising campaign would lead you to believe it’s an official offspring of “Cloverfield,” but that’s really stretching it. By this leap of the imagination, “District 9” could have been its daddy.
John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead make for the perfect rubbing the wrong way partners and the movie has enough subdued, slowly emanating suspense to maintain just the perfect simplicity. It should easily make the most jaded horror film lover happy.
This new entrant probably not match “Cloverfield’s” $171 million global gross income, and most likely why the ads are trying to link them to tap into even a portion of that box office. However, “10 Cloverfield Lane” may turn off some viewers expecting a huge spectacle, but this film is much more intimate and psychological which can make some of the best horror movies.
Winstead plays Michelle, who has deserted an intimate relationship for unknown intentions, driving off into the dark night. Somewhere deep in Louisiana, she gets involved in a violent car crash, waking up in the underground bunker of Howard (Goodman), who says that he pulled her from her vehicle right before a devastating airstrike annihilated the American Southwest.
Who launched the airstrike – was it aliens? Or maybe the Russians? – however, Howard and his buddy Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) are prepared to remain in Howard’s well-secured bunker for quite some time until the atomic radiation in the air is somewhat under control. Information isn’t forthcoming leaving many in the audience to begin letting their imaginations run wild.
The plot isn’t something we’ve not seen before in shows like “24”, but director Dan Trachtenberg in his feature film debut love taunting the crowd with the clear question tormenting Michelle: Is Howard telling the facts about the attack, or is he just a nut-case that has kidnapped her? 10 Cloverfield Lane gets much of its own small delights by allowing us to attempt to find the solution, presenting only enough evidence on both sides that we are as uncertain of the specific situation as Michelle is. On the one hand, Michelle does see a girl scarred by radiation who is desperate to get into the bunker, but on the other, his oblique references to a daughter who died inexplicably and Howard’s general creepy vibe make him an unreliable guide to what’s happened.
Most of the movie takes place down below in the windowless bunker that Howard has fashioned to resist any disaster. This gives the film a sense of bleakness and claustrophobia similar to Ryan Reynolds “Buried.” Howard is the true survivalist who knew to store away large rations, DVDs and board games to keep away the boredom. His personality can easily cure boredom as you’re constantly wondering just what level of sociopath/psychopath this man lies at.
Winstead portrays very will in the sympathetic role, always exemplifying her character’s composed smartness. This is a tough role as many actors will use it to chew scenery or become the annoying whining character everybody wants to be killed off quickly. There’s no acting like a distressed damsel, Michelle carefully and calmly observes her environment, trying to figure out what is really happening while planning a way of escape. The brilliance in Trachtenberg’s directing is that Michelle goes back and forth many times between wondering if Howard is being honest or is just crazy. Windstead’s acting is superb as it leaves us wondering the same thing over and over with her.
In the confrontation between Howard and Michelle, Gallagher seems to be the wild card of the “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Emmett has obviously known Howard for some time and trust him, but his smoothness with everything makes him start to take sides with Michelle, considering the option that maybe Howard is not telling them the whole truth. However, with Emmett’s laidback manner and his indolent Southern accent, something suggests that maybe he is hiding his own secrets as well. Michelle is not completely certain she can take sides with him, and Gallagher keeps his character’s plan delightfully unclear. Just when one character makes you feel safe, he does something that drives you over to feel safety in the other character. This tennis play continues throughout the film.
You forget how good an actor Goodman is as it’s been some time since he’s played such a large movie role and he displays a rumbling threat that penetrates deep within each of the movie’s scenes. With Howard’s clumsy style, his big frame and unsmiling eyes, he manifests our collective perception of killers, rapists and child molesters, the upsetting outsiders hidden within small communities. Goodman, on the other hand, didn’t do anything to make his role ingratiating. However, at exactly the same time, he does not overdo the strangeness of Howard with hammy theatrics. Rather, it is a functionality of unnerving stillness, that his occasional outbursts even more startling. He is that neighbor we’ve all had that just seems a bit off, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” carries quite an anticipation as a result of its name, finally, we are definitely going to be seeing some creatures. If not, why connect this movie with the 2008 hit? That fact cannot be avoided and thus decreases the suspense a little bit. If Howard is totally lying, then this is simply a coy, hostage film – but Trachtenberg spices up the situation enough to generate adequate movie thrills.
People who need to see terrifying creatures will not go home disappointed, however, the most terrifying of this group still remains Goodman’s nerve-cracking creation. This can easily become an instant cult film in all the right senses while people will quickly forget any relation it might have had with “Cloverfield.” “10 Cloverfield Lane” actually doesn’t need any lineage like that as it stand perfectly well on its own.