Given the tricksy reputation of producer JJ Abrams and the cryptic description of the film as a ‘blood relative’ of 2008’s breakout monster movie, “10 Cloverfield Lane”’s greatest asset also actively works against it while you’re watching it, at least for the first time. You spend a considerable amount of time trying to second guess the movie, running the risk of missing out on a pair of terrific performances from John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Injured in a car crash, Michelle (Winstead) wakes to find herself in an underground fallout shelter owned by Howard (Goodman). At first fearful she has been abducted, Howard explains that there has been ‘an attack’ and the outside world is now contaminated. With them in the bunker is Emmett, a local man who had helped Howard build the bunker, but can Howard be trusted?
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a film of many parts, some of which merge seamlessly together and others which feel – for better or worse – held together with duct tape and good intentions. For a good 75-80% of its 103 minute run time, it’s an unbelievably tense and riveting thriller, with shades of “Room” and “Misery”. Debut feature director Dan Trachtenberg makes the most of the claustrophobic setting and malevolently playful script to keep you guessing what the truth might be. Refreshingly free of manufactured jump scares and gratuitous shock moments, he allows a real visceral tension to inexorably build, ebbing and flowing but always creeping upwards. He’s helped by a pair of intensely gripping performances from Winstead and especially John Goodman. Although usually known for playing affable, likeable characters, there’s no denying that psycho Goodman is good, man. In fact, it’s Goodman’s inherent likeability which gives his character such chilling power as he is by turns solicitous and sinister.
Of course, there is a third act ‘twist’ which will ask you to make one Hell of a narrative leap and while it’s not entirely unearned, it’s unlikely to take everybody with it. Having mulled it over, I liked it. It’s a blackly comic punchline to what has come before it and it helped me understand what Abrams was talking about when it came to being a ‘blood relative’. There are all sorts of connective threads that link this film to the first “Cloverfield”: numerous Easter egg references to the world of the first movie and even peppered throughout the dialogue there’s a clear path to how the makers could firmly join the films together narratively if they chose to. Thankfully, there’s no aggravating shaky-cam found footage in this instalment but if the “Cloverfield” franchise grows to become simply an anthology of innovatively creepy, tense, sci-fi/ horror movies they will hopefully still share the same fundamental DNA: movies about cataclysmic world-changing events seen exclusively – and sometimes frustratingly – from the perspective of the little guy. There are no situation rooms, no strategic overviews and no assembled alliance of armed forces, just the ordinary person trying desperately to stay alive and it’s all the scarier for it.