Scott F. Evans
As you take your seat in the darkened theater for a showing of… check that. As you prepare to leave for the theater to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, I urge you to remove any and all expectations about what this film might actually be. Expect nothing beyond good writing, directing, and acting. Go in with a clean slate.
If you can.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is on the run from a failed relationship. She’s knocked unconscious when her car is sideswiped and flips off the road. She awakens in doomsday prepper Howard’s (John Goodman) underground shelter. Emmitt (John Gallagher Jr.), partially incapacitated with a shoulder injury, is also locked in with them. Howard tells Michelle that she can’t leave because the country has been decimated… by something. The apocalypse is here, but they’re all safe as long as they don’t go topside.
In his feature film debut, director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted a taut, enjoyable little thriller. 10 Cloverfield Lane is set primarily in a small underground bunker and Trachtenberg uses the location to its fullest potential. His camerawork is interesting, but never splashy. He finds ways of framing his restrictive set and cast of three in ways that don’t distract, but are never dull. He subtly builds clever visual clues into his film that all end up paying off by the climax. Trachtenberg’s a neophyte, but he shows such great potential that I look forward to his next project.
His top notch cast certainly helps. Winstead does exemplary work as film lead Michelle. She plays the character almost perfectly for this genre. She’s vulnerable, but has mettle to spare. Goodman steals the film as Howard, Michelle’s captor (savior? both?). Goodman is always a likable presence and Trachtenberg uses this to keep viewers guessing about his true intentions. Gallagher is given the thankless role of Emmitt, who is so amiable that he ultimately ends up undercutting some of the film’s tension. The character’s only real purpose seems to be to provide Michelle with a friend to talk to.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a contained, relatively quiet film until a late third act shift. The change feels like an unnecessary studio-mandated addition, like the executives decided not to trust the audience. Though tonally jarring, it mostly works. That’s because by now, we’re completely invested in the two lead characters.
Coming in at just under two hours, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a fun little ride and definitely worth a watch.