10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 Cloverfield Lane came as a bit of a surprise to everyone. There had been whispers of a follow-up to J.J Abrams’ alien disasterfest Cloverfield for a long time, but nothing concrete ever surfaced…until the trailer landed in early 2016, a mere eight weeks before the film’s actual release date, and everyone collectively exploded.

After her car is crashed off the road, Michelle awakens, chained up, in an underground bunker built by imposing ex-Navy officer and tinfoil-hatter Howard and his neighbour Emmett, who both claim that the world outside has been rendered uninhabitable by some disastrous event. Doubtful and scared, Michelle tries to escape, but her attempts prove unsuccessful…so she has no choice but to put a proverbial smile on her face and bear with her new life as well as she can.

The opening of 10 Cloverfield Lane sets up the tone of the film quite nicely, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle tearfully throwing clothes into a suitcase, shutting the door of her flat behind her (leaving her keys – and engagement ring – behind) and driving off. This clearly isn’t the ensemble-casted extravaganza that the original consisted of; instead, it’s a much quieter (and actually more emotionally intense) affair. Consisting largely of the central cast of three – with occasional and brief appearances from a few other characters – it’s a lot more character-driven a film than Cloverfield was.

In his feature length debut, Dan Trachtenberg surprisingly nails the tension, helped along with an excellent script by Whiplash screenwriter Damien Chazelle; but it’s the film’s central cast of three that really shine. Mary Elizabeth Winstead shows echoes of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in her Michelle; a resourceful and tenacious woman who has been dumped into an extraordinary situation. As our gateway to the film’s world, we’re just as in the dark as Michelle is, and Trachtenberg makes sure to keep us there, questioning how much truth there behind the reasons for her captivity.

The surprise of the whole film, however, is John Goodman. Despite having seen him play a few similar characters, it always takes me by surprise how well he can play threatening. Goodman’s Howard is seemingly well-meaning – if unhinged – but Goodman manages to deftly coax out various elements of his character, leaving the audience, and Michelle, constantly guessing as to his true motivations, and whether he’s truly got her best interests in mind…

The ending may draw some criticism, although it doesn’t come as out of left field as it at first seems. For fear of spoiling it, I won’t get into too much detail, but I actually liked it; the film doesn’t really go to any great lengths to hide what it is, after all – it’s merely telling a familiar story from a different angle. I’ll be interested in seeing whether it inspires a spate of franchises telling stories in a similar way.

All in all, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent film, and is definitely worth your time. Few films in recent memory have created such palpable tension and mystery, and it’ll definitely keep you guessing.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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