A mystery, drama, science fiction and psychological thriller all rolled into one, 10 Cloverfield Lane is the spiritual successor to 2008’s sleeper hit Cloverfield.
We are introduced to Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) when she is at sixes and sevens. Not thinking all that clearly, she packs a suitcase and exits her city apartment in haste heading for the hills. We find out she has chosen to leave her boyfriend, although other than having had a fight no reason is given. A car accident along the way leaves her reeling and before you know it she is being held captive in a “Doomsday” bunker by Howard (John Goodman), a survivalist.
She, though, is not the only resident with Howard; for a little earlier a guy who helped build the shelter, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), also hunkered down underground. Howard is clearly the man pulling the strings here and there is something not right about him. Insisting on good manners and appreciation on saving his tenants’ lives, he has long feared an alien invasion among other “end of the earth” considerations. He claims the Earth has been contaminated and heavy padlocks shield the bunker from outside contamination. There is no shortage of food or drinking water and other supplies have been well thought out for a long stay. In fact, the set up is very much like a small home, complete with kitchen, bathroom and living room, books, films and other forms of entertainment. Howard turns from nice to nasty and back again, seemingly on a whim. He has an indeterminate past but parts of the story he relays don’t add up. If Michelle or Emmett try to break his rules there are consequences.
There have been no shortage of films about people being held against their will, most notably in recent times the Oscar winner Room. This is more unusual than most with its suggestion that invaders may be upon us or perhaps that is simply a figment of Goodman’s imagination in an effort to control the situation? The film originated from an “ultra low budget” spec script penned by John Campbell and Matt Stuecken titled The Cellar. Then Damien Chazelle (writer and director of Whiplash) was brought in to rewrite Campbell and Stuecken’s draft and helm the movie, but he dropped out from directing when Whiplash received funding.
Goodman manages to capture the unhinged, at times menacing persona of Howard well. He alternates between putting his captors at ease and then threatening them. Winstead, too, is believable enough as a woman who tries to outsmart her abductor, while Gallagher Jr has a smaller role, although gradually we gain some insights into his character.
10 Cloverfield Lane is most certainly intriguing in large part as you are not quite sure where it is going to go. Arguably, too, the climax is hardly what you may have expected, although to me the final scenes are the ones that were the most disappointing. With the intrigue having been built the filmmakers could have taken it in any number of directions, but in end what they served up was simply clunky and unsatisfying. More’s the pity because the set up – including the extending opening sequence with its own twist – showed real promise.
Nevertheless, as a first up effort from director Dan Trachtenberg there are significant portions to commend. Rated M, 10 Cloverfield Lane scores a 6½ to 7 out of 10.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Release Date: 10 March 2016
Rating: M (Sustained threat, violence and coarse language)
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television