FILM REVIEW: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Trailers are flying toward us everywhere we look nowadays. Whether it’s that potential Oscar favourite or the next installment in a big blockbuster franchise, thanks to the online age, marketing has never been this accessible or eventful.
Before a film’s trailer is dropped, there is almost always word floating around in some form or another discussing that particular title, and in some cases, there are official countdowns to a trailer’s release as if it were the movie premiere itself. So when 10 Cloverfield Lane’s trailer popped out of nowhere, it was a genuine surprise. Not only was its appearance unexpected, and the fact that no one seemed to know of this film’s existence prior, it did exactly what any decent trailer should do: it left you intrigued whilst giving very little away.
I made sure I saw this film on opening night to preserve that special spoiler-free experience that unfortunately appears to be a rare thing nowadays.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a tension-fuelled little gem.
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First of all, I just want to point out that if you were hoping for a direct Cloverfield sequel or prequel, this movie isn’t it. In fact, it might not even share the exact same cinematic universe, but instead, it acts as a companion piece to the type of world that was created in that film, despite being very different in tone and presentation. The story follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who gets involved in a car accident and wakes up in an underground bunker with two others, Howard (John Goodman) and Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), who claim that the outside world has been polluted with toxic chemicals.
I got a kick out of this film, and after a period of seeing some disappointing stuff (Allegiant, I wish I could forget you), this is exactly the remedy I needed. This is an extremely suspenseful psychological drama/horror film that practically drips with paranoia throughout the entirety of its running time. It’s smart, subtle, and crucially unpredictable. There may be moments where you think you’ve figured it out, but this film keeps its mysteries close to its chest, ready to catch you off guard. But most of all, 10 Cloverfield Lane is fun, and it secretly knows it is too.
I’ve always remained a fan of stories which play out in one location, although I have noticed an issue that can creep up in these types of films: pacing. Sometimes they can be delivered a bit rocky and end up disturbing the flow. Not this time. The film constantly keeps you on your toes despite its constricted space and before you know it, it’s over.
Even in its quieter, more subtle moments, you find yourself encapsulated by the tension filled atmosphere. Your interest is never lost and afterwards I realised that I hadn’t paused to check the time once. The gradual unraveling mysteries surrounding the backstories of the characters as well as the world outside the bunker never becomes dull. The film grasps you from the get go and doesn’t stop until it’s over.
Some of the key elements that help achieve this include the impressive cinematography and score. On an artistic scale, the way the movie physically looks is nothing out of the ordinary, but in terms of atmosphere building, it is shot in a way that feels claustrophobic but never to the point of it being too tight.
Instead of being solely confined to close-ups, there is also a nice mixture of shots from afar, as well as shots showing multiple cast members at once. It’s all very indirect but it manages to create a feeling that these characters are occupying a small space that has become their own little world, and that’s very hard to pull off effectively. The score music, which worried me slightly at first, actually ended up working in the film’s favour. It’s slightly over the top and very reminiscent of the average 90’s – mid 2000’s fun horror/slasher flicks (e.g any of the early Final Destination movies), but it somehow works. Instead of making everything seem silly or throw-away, it actually ends up adding to the fun and tension.
To make a semi-horror film work in mostly well-lit sets with few areas of darkness is a testament to both a good script and a smart crew. Darkness doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all of horror. It shows that the writing is what can truly make a difference and I hope that horror filmmakers will eventually grasp this.
The craft is impressive but it’s the performances which really make this film so utterly gripping. With such a small cast, it is imperative that the characters are portrayed convincingly and are as engaging as possible. Winstead gives an appealing performance and shows that she can provide a tough and intelligent heroine (which there definitely needs to be more of. I’m looking at you, Hollywood writers). But of course, the stand out, the act that really sells this film, is none other than the brilliant John Goodman.
Goodman carries a natural likeability that we’ve seen both on and off screen, and we also know that can play threatening rather well too. These two traits come together in this movie to really sell this complex, somehow sympathetic, unpredictable character. Goodman makes sure that we never know what Howard is thinking and his presence in the film takes control of every scene, even when he isn’t in it. It’s a truly scary performance. He holds this film on his shoulders with seemingly no effort. He’s simply excellent.