Paul Murphy, Contributor
Cloverfield by name, but not by nature.
A departure from J.J Abrams’ 2008 Cloverfield both stylistically and in terms of narrative, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a fantastic psychological thriller that will grip audiences from the start, and keep them guessing throughout. Dan Trachtenberg makes his directorial debut, his film focusing not on extra-terrestrials but on monsters of the more human variety.
The film begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) driving away from a destructive relationship, ignoring calls from her fiancé to return home. After a car suddenly smashes into her, Michelle awakes chained to a wall in a room reminiscent of serial kidnapper John Jamelske’s concrete prison bunker. Her captor Howard (John Goodman) informs her that he has brought her here to save her from an outside world where mysterious attacks have poisoned the air, making it unsafe to leave. When he releases her, Michelle finds that the bunker is in fact a set-up typical of an American suburban home. Emmett, a talkative builder, completes this strange subterranean trio.
Trachtenberg’s greatest achievement in this film is keeping us guessing. A playful montage shows Michelle, Howard and Emmett getting on just fine, in the beginning. Soon however, evidence surfaces that leads Emmett and Michelle to believe that Howard may not only be a liar, but dangerous as well. One questions looms throughout the film – does the bigger threat reside outside the bunker in the form of an unknown occupying force, or inside with the lofty and unhinged Howard?
Goodman is excellent in this role – is he simply an eccentric survivalist with the best intentions deep down, or has he in fact done horrible, horrible things?
Trachtenberg’s masterful use on confined spaces helps to constantly create tension, and we frequently see protagonist Michelle victim to this confinement. Chained to the cell wall, ever-threatened by Howard’s mercurial temper, squeezing through the air ducts – again and again Michelle finds herself out of the frying pan and into the fire, and its masterfully achieved. A combination of claustrophobic cinematography and unrelenting plot makes this film.
During the climax however, suspense all but vanishes as the film goes in an entirely new direction. Anyone who has seen Cloverfield will know what I mean, but it is a shame that that this taut, psychologically engaging piece couldn’t have been a standalone entry, weakened as it is by its connection with its predecessor.
Don’t get me wrong, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a masterpiece in creating suspense and intrigue, and is a truly enjoyable watch. Just leave the cinema ten minutes early if you would like it to stay that way.