10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
10 Cloverfield Lane blends several cinematic genres producing an interesting premise. Once it has established its narrative arc, it then dives head long into an exciting and tense one hundred and four minutes. The movie is not a direct sequel to Cloverfield (2008) but does touch upon some of the same themes and ideas. Made on a modest budget of $15 million, the claustrophobic setting of a nuclear bunker accommodates strong performances from the lead actors. It is not until the third act when the story movies back to the outside world, do we see any major visual effects. Overall, this is a very compelling film due to the strong screenplay and well defined central characters.
After a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens to find herself in a mysterious bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman). Initially fearful that she’s been abducted, Howard tells her he rescued her and brought her to his bunker just prior to a pre-emptive attack on the US. Michelle discovers that a young man called Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) has also made it to the bunker. The two are sceptical of Howard’s explanation until they witness a poisoned and burnt woman outside the bunker entrance. Yet, inconsistencies in Howard’s story lead them to question what they’ve been told and fear for their own safety, so the pair decided to escape.
10 Cloverfield Lane hinges upon the three central performances and the quality of the screenplay. If the dialogue, character development and performances had been anything less than what they are, then the movie would fail dramatically. However, the screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle is lean, nuanced and to the point. Michelle is a strong and believable lead character, marred by an abusive upbringing. Mary Elizabeth Winstead interprets this back story well. Emmett is also very plausible with his penchant for verbal diarrhoea and slacker attitude. But it is John Goodman’s who steals the show. He is worryingly unhinged as the survivalist and conspiracy theorist Howard, effortlessly switching from menace to pathos; being both pitiful and threatening.
10 Cloverfield Lane works very well within the confines of its PG-13 Rating. The emphasis is upon tension rather than horror. What acts of violence there are a relatively discrete without compromising the atmosphere by being too coy. The real test for the movie comes in the final act, when Michelle escapes the confines of the bunker. What happens next may test the audience and whether they can maintain their suspension of disbelief. Yet due to the focused direction by Dan Trachtenberg and the goodwill earned in the previous hour, the step from one genre to another works well. The effects driven finale is not excessive and provides and interesting codicil to the narrative.
10 Cloverfield Lane did well at the box office considering its low budget. Bad Robot Productions have already announced that another sequel, God Particle is in production that will tie this film directly into its tangential predecessor Cloverfield. The term “Cloververse” has already been bandied about, indicating yet another example of how studio wish to have long term franchises these days. Certainly, there are a lot of questions raised by the two existing movies that remain unanswered. Whether these can be successfully explored via a third movie remains to be seen. In the meantime, 10 Cloverfield Lane remains an entertaining movie whether you are familiar with the prior film or not. It offers a strong story driven by compelling performances. Unlike Cloverfield, this time we are offered likeable characters we can invest in and identify with. It’s one of the movies strongest assets.