Title: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Release Date: March 11th, 2016
Directors: Dan Trachtenberg
Release Format: Theatrical
If there is one thing that J.J. Abrams and his production team at Bad Robot know how to do well, it is effectively marketing a movie. Let’s travel back to 2008 to talk about the marketing for the original Cloverfield film. Cloverfield first made its appearance as a trailer before the first Michael Bay Transformers movie and pulled the risky move of only showing the release date, no title. This was the first of many plays for Cloverfield’s viral marketing campaign, and it went off exactly how Bad Robot and Paramount Studios wanted it to. Public interest exploded, everyone was trying to piece together what exactly this untitled film was about. Speculation was all over the place. Was it a new Godzilla movie? A Lost tie-in? No one knew. Slowly, and surely, more information was leaked in creative ways, until finally public interest was at its peak and the title of the film was revealed. The film was financial success grossing over $170 million worldwide (boxofficemojo) on a $25 million dollar budget. It’s important to paint the picture of Cloverfield’s mysterious marketing campaign and its subsequent success, to really understand the allure and intrigue surrounding 10 Cloverfield Lane. Jumping to the year 2013 a spec script for a movie called The Cellar written by John Campbell and Matt Stuecken was published. J.J. Abrams and his production company later bought the rights to the script and code named the project Valencia. Fans of Cloverfield had been clamoring for a sequel for years, and finally, in 2016, it was revealed in a trailer for 13 Hours (another Michael Bay movie COINCIDENCE?) that project Valencia had become 10 Cloverfield Lane. The internet exploded once again with wild speculation that this was a Cloverfield sequel. Yet another effective marketing move from J.J. Abrams and his team at Bad Robot, every film site, blog, and social media outlet was talking about 10 Cloverfield Lane and its mysterious connection to Cloverfield. So what is 10 Cloverfield Lane exactly? More importantly, how is it? Well, read on to find out!
After an argument with her fiance, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) recklessly storms out of their house. Unfortunately, her night goes from bad to worse, as her car is slammed off the road. Michelle awakes to find herself in what initially appears to be a basement. She’s chained to a wall, with an iv drip in her arm, and a cast on her leg. Frightened and startled Michelle begins plotting her escape, but she’s quickly sedated by her captor Howard, played by a simultaneously lovable and frightening John Goodman. Once she awakens, Howard explains to her that the world outside has ended. Howard tells a story of a virus that has killed everyone, and how they’ll have to wait it out for at least a year or two for the air to be cleaned. Skeptical, Michelle listens to Howard, and her skepticism becomes a bit more eased when she meets Emmett. Emmett played by John Gallagher Jr, provides an excellent foil to Howard’s eccentricities and short temper, and a bit of normalcy in this dream like bunker that Michelle has awoken in. The tagline of the film “Monsters come in many forms,” is the thematic center of 10 Cloverfield Lane. The theme is explored through one of the characters in the bunker, but to say who it is, would be to spoil the suspense.
From here on out, the movie mostly plays like a mystery/thriller, and an excellent one at that. As a mystery, there are just enough questions to engage the audience. Questions that put them under a spell of distrust and paranoia, one that Mary Winstead does an excellent job of expressing through her character Michelle. Has the world really ended? Did Howard build this bunker for the end of the world… Or something more sinister? Is Emmett another victim of circumstance, or is he working with Howard? All of these questions are answered. Some answers are surprising, and some places the plot goes are unexpected, or at least jarring in their delivery. There was one moment in particular that stunned the audience on such a large scale, the gasps were heard across the theater. Moments like this one, absolutely deliver as a thriller, and I will refrain from spoiling it here. Thriller and thrilling are appropriate genre classifiers of 10 Cloverfield Lane to add to its mystery premise, and that is highlighted through the pacing. For a movie that is nearly two hours long, taking place largely in the same location, it’s extremely engaging. That is in thanks to its excellent cast.
John Gallagher Jr. and Mary Winstead bring their characters, Emmett, and Michelle, to life. They provide a genuine chemistry to their interactions and their arcs are believable and natural. Moments like their conversation about regrets they had before the incident, to them watching the movie Cannibal Airlines in Howard’s living room, come across as entirely organic. As a result, you really begin to feel for these two, you want them to emerge victoriously, and that really amplifies the stakes and sense of tension. Are they truly safer in the bunker? That question is a quintessential one for the leads because Howard is the uncontested ward. John Goodman gives one of his best performances as Howard, effortlessly exuding the eccentricities of Howard’s character. In some moments, Howard is comparable to a lovable uncle, providing generosity and care on an almost parental level. Yet even in his kindness, there’s something insidious about him. Both the audience and Michelle, won’t know what to make of him for most of the movie, and that is all thanks to John Goodman’s exceptional interpretation of the character. Only Goodman could make moments like Howard’s exclamation that “solving problems makes him want to dance,” while proceeding to throw on the jukebox and dance, a subtly unnerving experience. The acting is superb and enhanced through Dan Trachtenberg tight direction.
For a movie with a modest budget of $15 million, Trachtenberg delivers a triple-A experience. The cuts are clear and concise, expertly highlighting the claustrophobic feel of the bunker and the character’s interactions within. For someone just breaking out into the industry Trachtenberg shows his skill in practically every shot. He accentuates Michelle’s paranoia, whether through a lingering shot of her hands shaking, or the nervously exchanged glances between Emmett and Michelle as Howard loses his cool. Trachtenberg also flexes his skill in building tension and even comic relief, in one particularly notable scene involving a game of charades. The director plays with the audience’s expectations, and even utilizes a bit of irony, to ratchet the tension up. The scene has both the audience and the characters begin to suspect that Howard is expressing he knows what they’re up to during a game of charades. The scene builds and builds before erupting in a brilliant subversion of expectations. There are a handful of scenes that assuredly executed throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane, however, I won’t spoil any more. I will, however, say that Trachtenburg even makes the (now) controversial ending work.
The ending will be divisive I’m sure. The story inside the bunker is almost a completely self-contained tale, as opposed to what happens in the final act. 10 Cloverfield Lane could have concluded once it wrapped up the bunker story and been a completely satisfying mystery/thriller. However, the final act shifts gears (there will be no spoilers here.) Just for the record, I enjoyed it. Initially, I found the ending a tad ridiculous at first, but in relation to the films theme it works. You have two antagonists juxtaposed creatively, and we see how Michelle has evolved into a survivor in the second encounter. I can see the arguments that it doesn’t work, or it isn’t necessary, but it’s executed well enough that it did little to change my enjoyment of the movie. Whether you find the ending disjointed or not, what comes before it is nothing short of a compelling and well-made thriller/mystery. I’ll be curious to read about what most people thought of the ending. My hope is that if the audience didn’t enjoy it, they can at least appreciate the movie for what it is up until the final act. 10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the best surprises of 2016 (so far) and wherever this pseudo-franchise goes next I’m on board.
- Acting: The movie premise could only have been engaging if the stars were up for the task and Mary Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., and John Goodman are all captivating.
- Cinematography: Tight and claustrophobic, the bunker feels like a lucid dream.
- Plot: Compelling from start to finish, satisfying threads, and some surprising moments.
- Characters: The three characters work to create a very interesting trio. The chemistry is completely organic, especially Emmett and Michelle’s interactions, and the believable establishment of Howard’s uncontested lordship.
- The acting is top notch
- Compelling premise
- Some surprising and shocking moments
- Some people might not love the ending
- Suspension of disbelief is a must by the end