“10 Cloverfield Lane” is, at least in namesake, part of the JJ Abrams produced Cloverfield franchise. Unlike the original Cloverfield movie which used “found footage” to recount an alien invasion of New York, this film forgoes the loud, overblown, elaborate alien action, and instead keeps the situation simple, smart and incredibly thrilling.
The underground space in which the majority of the movie takes place is expertly utilized and the movie’s dramatic tempo is truly spectacular. This film is a sparkling example of what a simple horror movie can be, and proves that sometimes a creepy smile can be much scarier than a gargling alien perched on the top of the Empire State building. “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a film that will keep you firmly clutching your seat up until the very end.
The story begins when Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, walks out of her fiance’s apartment, leaving her wedding ring behind. While driving away she is sideswiped and flies off the road in a violent tailspin. She awakens to find herself in a dingy cement-walled room with an IV hooked up to her arm.
The person who has taken her there is Howard, played by John Goodman. He tells her that there has been an attack on America either by Russia or Martians, and that the air outside the bunker is poisoned.
Howard is big, intimidating and clearly insane, yet at the same time sensible and even well-meaning. Is Howard Michelle’s captor or savior? The dramatic situation becomes more complicated when she finds that there is another man in the bunker with them. Is he a confidant or a conspirator with Howard? The movie gives you confidence in each of its answers and then proves them wrong when you least expect it.
The dramatic intricacies of this film are expertly deployed through clever dialogue and key visuals. The story is fraught with schemes, ulterior motives and deception that will keep you at the edge of your seat for every twist and turn in this well-crafted dramatic tale. The film evokes a Hitchcockian cleverness in its plotting as well as it in its unexpected funny moments.
What allows the narrative devices in this film to be so effective and have such a deep effect on the viewer is the tremendous acting by John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Goodman is at times terrifying, channeling Walter from “The Big Lebowski” in his angry outbursts, yet at other points he unveils a believable honesty and kindness. Goodman’s acting keeps us guessing.
Winstead is similarly wonderful and conveys much of her frantic internal struggle by not saying much at all. The panic that she lends her character amplifies the terror of the horrible situation that she is in, and makes us invested in every turn of her fate.
Despite being a well-crafted movie overall, the film falters in a few respects. The cinematography in this film is nothing to rave about, and the techniques used are incredibly standard. The overused camera techniques get the point across, but they don’t add anything to the story.
The film was also lacking in character complexity. The characters’ traits, personalities and drive make the story unpredictable and compelling, but their emotions don’t seem real. Michelle doesn’t seem to talk or miss the past too much and Howard at times seems nothing more than a conventional nutcase. They are characters that you enjoy because of the situations they are put in but not because they have any emotional depth.
Nevertheless, these flaws are relatively minor and Hitchcock himself often had characters that simply served the story rather than the other way around.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is masterfully crafted, and its simplistic design and intricate plot delivers big. Horror films this clever do not come around the Hollywood circuit often, so see it while you can!