After leaving her fiancé in a hurry, and being sideswiped by a car, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a cellar, injured and shackled to a wall. Her captor Howard (John Goodman) insists that he saved her from a terrible fate, since there has been an attack on the world above. Sceptical, Michelle enlists Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) – the only other person in the bunker – to make good their escape, not knowing what kind of world waits for them above.
Originally envisioned as a captive/end of the world type thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane has been rewritten to be what JJ Abrams describes as a spiritual cousin to the 2008 alien invasion movie Cloverfield. Filled with tension and shifting loyalties, it is not immediately obvious that 10 Cloverfield Lane needed the Cloverfield connection, but it certainly doesn’t harm this small, well acted and engagingly scripted thriller.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead leads the cast in 10 Cloverfield Lane, and it is through her eyes that we see the film. Michelle is a well scripted and well acted character, with the audience going along for the journey with her. Winstead creates the role well, keeping the audience on her side, and keeping us changing our mind about what is actually happening as she does. John Goodman plays up the sinister as Howard, switching from sweet and kind, to dangerous and threatening in a heartbeat, and this is what keeps the atmosphere of the film tense and dark. John Gallagher Jr plays both sides in this battle of wits between Michelle and Howard, going with whichever side is more compelling, but Gallagher Jr makes for a good sounding board for Michelle and a vehicle for exposition.
Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle’s screenplay focuses on the events that happen in the bunker, with Michelle and the audience never sure what to believe. The characters are well written and the atmosphere kept tense and strained throughout the film, until things come to a violent and action packed close. The dialogue is strong, with enough known about the characters to engage with them, but enough left unsaid for there to be uncertainty throughout the film.
Director Dan Trachtenberg – who took over after Damien Chazelle left to make Whiplash – creates a tense, bizarre and unsettling thriller in 10 Cloverfield Lane. The tension ebbs and flows cleverly throughout the film, with John Goodman playing a character who seems fit to blow at any moment. The real danger becomes Howard, and not the threat that has caused the trio to retreat to the bunker, although this literally and figuratively hangs over the characters’ heads for the entire film. The final 15 minutes or so of the film become an action movie with characters fighting for survival, and this is a welcome change of pace after the tense time in the bunker, and although it is ridiculously over the top at times, the action is fun and compelling. There are times, however, where the pacing of the film drops, and the constant indecision about what is actually happening in the outside world becomes respetitive.
In all, 10 Cloverfield Lane did not need to be connected to Cloverfield for it to be an engaging and fun thriller with a burst of action at the end, but it doesn’t suffer for the association either. Winstead, Goodman and Gallagher are all strong in their roles, with Winstead carrying the film ably, and Goodman stealing the show as the dangerous and volatile Howard. The film could have benefited from some stronger pacing and tighter editing, but as it stands 10 Cloverfield Lane is fun, compelling and deeply unsettling.