Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Release Date: March 11th, 2015
“There was an attack…A big one, buy information pills ” Howard (John Goodman), a mysterious “savior” notes near the beginning of the new film, 10 Cloverfield Lane. He’s speaking to Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman who doesn’t know how or why she’s being held against her will in a doomsday basement.
As she heals from the injuries she sustained in a car accident, both she and the audience itself are left in the dark as this tense and captivating drama slowly unfolds, leaving audience members unsure of who they can really trust.
Director Dan Trachtenberg, who is amazingly making his feature-film debut here, sets the film predominantly in a contained environment where a feeling of claustrophobia grows from minute to minute. Within moments of the opening, the world of this movie is this confined but well-decorated space where Howard is in control and Michelle and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), an amiable young man who seems relatively normal, are his two roommates. Trachtenberg uses the space effectively showing how Howard’s shelter operates nicely as a secluded home while it also serves as a prison of sorts for the trio.
One of the greatest aspects of this story is how it unfolds slowly, surprising the viewer along the way with unsettling moments of fury alongside genuine moments of levity. At the beginning, it seems like Michelle is being held completely against her will — the chains that tie her to her bed attest to that — but within moments of those chains being revealed, Howard gives her the key. There’s a sense of freedom there. As free as she is though in the limited space, Howard warns her not to go outside. There’s danger out there, he knows.
Even though audience members likely know that this film exists in the same world as Cloverfield (2008), the film obfuscates that connection. There are certain signs that an alien attack is underway outside but there are also signs that Howard is lying and that the safety he offers comes with a price tag too big to bear.
“You need to eat. You need to sleep and you need to start showing me a little bit of appreciation,” he says in a gravelly threatening tone.
Unlike most action movies or thrillers, this is a movie that shows that less is more. Great credit goes to the cast — the three actors listed above are the only ones that appear onscreen for most of the film — who create compelling and convincing characters within the limited space. Each of these characters has an intelligence and a point of view that works realistically in this world. None of them act like the dim-witted fools we often see running around in movies like this.
The compelling screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle (who last year wrote the amazing Whiplash screenplay) unfolds in such a powerful way that it’s hard not to be impressed. It’s consistently perplexing and creative and it weaves a web so efficiently that it’s hard to know how all of the pieces will come together in the end.
The brilliant third act here does bring many of the pieces together. There are inevitably a few loose ends. Producer J.J Abrams is known for his movies and television shows to never offer complete and absolute answers so that trend does continue here but the film’s conclusion is so tense and powerful that an open-ended finale doesn’t matter.
10 Cloverfield Lane unfolds with a similar delicacy and intimacy to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and the movie shows that you don’t need a large cast, a major budget or a big set to create real and palpable thrills for the audience.
Review by: John Hanlon