Produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by Temple University alum Dan Trachtenberg, (Shout out to Philadelphia) 10 Cloverfield Lane is a science fiction horror thriller much like its spiritual predecessor Cloverfield that was released in 2008.
The film starts with a bang. Quite loudly in fact as Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is involved in a car accident that send pusher careening out of control. The sound design in that scene alone warrants some award recognition as you can feel the crunch of metal and glass. After the crash she awakens in a bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman) who informs her of an attack that has happened outside and that they can not leave. There is also another occupant of the bunker Emmet (John Gallagher Jr) To avoid spoilers I will stop with the plot description here. Everything written so far you can mostly see in the trailers and tv spots.
I love films that have a limited setting. As a major fan of the works of Alfred Hitchcock, I always appreciate the capabilities to tell a complete story that takes place in 1 location with a cast of less than 10 people. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a great modern example of that kind of storytelling. It is tense and does not waste time getting going. It is very economical with its story. There isn’t really an exposition to speak of and it doesn’t matter. At a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes it uses every second to the fullest to make you feel tense and uncomfortable. Legit tension operates in this film not just modern horror jump scares. Where does this apprehension come from? Some of it is in the sounds that the characters hear from outside that are uncertain in nature. Most of it however is from the fantastic performance of John Goodman. Throughout this film the man is a human time bomb and the moments when he is not speaking you find yourself even more terrified of him because if he is not being verbal, his physical acting takes over and puts you more on edge. Winstead and Gallaher Jr play off Goodman well as they figure how to live with this man. Winstead also shines as she plays Michelle with a very proactive personality and in one of a few direct character moments expresses her regrets and resolves to change that about herself.
There were a couple of nitpicks I do have with the film. At times I felt the film was overscored. There were moments where I just thought no music would have sold the tension far more effectively. It comes across as bombastic and unneeded since we know and understand he severity of the situation. Another issue is that there is a mystery that is introduced during the film that was really intriguing but does not receive any resolution. Personally I would have loved to see this played out and trim down the film’s actual climax a bit to make room to develop this thread a bit more.
I appreciate that this is not a direct sequel to the original film. Also that this was not quickly churned out. The time taken to create this really shows in the craftsmanship of the story. Director Dan Trachtenberg doesn’t really waste a shot here for his directorial debut. With this entry I really hope that Cloverfield becomes a series of separate stories like a cinematic Twilight Zone.
10 Cloverfield Lane decides what it wants to do from the start and immediately pulls you in with tension that is enhanced by some great performances and excellent sound design and keeps you there for its lengths. I hope this trend can continue for future installments and that the creators take their time to get it right. This is a pretty damn good thriller.
Final Rating (4.5/5) John Goodman gives a terrifying, unhinged performance. Great tension and atmosphere. Musical score can be overbearing at times and an unexplored plot thread are the negatives for me.