Movie Review: “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a psychological thriller with many, many plot twists
Before it became a sequel to an 8-year-old found footage movie called “Cloverfield,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” started as a script called “The Cellar.” It was never intended to be a sequel, or a sidequel — or whatever this is — to “Cloverfield.” This is important to know. Not just for those who haven’t seen this yet but for those who have. It explains why that third act twist feels like it was taken from another movie and awkwardly fused onto the end of “10 Cloverfield Lane.”
Obviously it was done to connect the films in a way that seems to suggest the “Cloverfield” franchise could be anthology based, but it also takes the film in a self-conscious, twisty-turny direction better suited for a lesser entry in the M. Night Shyamalan catalog. But before “10 Cloverfield Lane” buckles under the inherent expectations of its title, it’s a taut psychological thriller held together by strong performances from John Goodman and the underrated, overlooked Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Like last year’s “The Gift,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” becomes a better movie if you leave the theater 10 minutes before the closing credits start to roll.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a film with many twists. Too many twists, to be exact. But before “10 Cloverfield Lane” takes the bullet train to Crazy Town, it’s about a young woman named Michelle (Winstead) who, while on the run from her seemingly normal and calm sounding ex (the voice of Bradley Cooper), is run off the road by a pickup truck. Instead of waking up in a hospital, Michelle finds herself chained to a pipe in what appears to be a jail cell with an IV strapped to her arm. As it turns out Michelle was “saved” by a survivalist named Howard (Goodman) and placed, as Howard claims, “for her own protection,” in his doomsday bunker. According to Howard, the world as we knew it is over. Whether due to those pesky Russians or Martians, Earth’s atmosphere is comprised of poisonous green gas. Everyone you’ve ever known is just a memory. At this point, to write any more would ruin the various surprises that “10 Cloverfield Lane” has in store. However (*SPOILER ALERT*), at one point, Howard reveals that he owns a tub toilet, that is, a tub that also functions as a toilet! What? Yes! It’s nuts!
Earning points simply because he avoided the tired found footage aesthetic of its predecessor, director Dan Trachtenberg — whose previous experience was directing short promotional films — wrings an incredible amount of suspense from this stage bound and nearly static setting. Mostly taking place within the claustrophobic confines of Howard’s bunker (which looks like a cross between some Eastern European gulag and a Midwestern doublewide trailer), Trachtenberg eschews visual style and, through a series of tight close-ups, wisely focuses on his cast. Playing a character that is at once physically imposing and oddly matriarchal, Goodman is an enigma. Is he a madman or just a socially awkward oddball?
Scary and, at times, sympathetic Howard recalls the similarly mysterious (and frightening) character Goodman played in “Barton Fink.” Similarly, although functioning as a wide-eyed audience surrogate, Winstead ably holds her own against Goodman; even managing to bring an intensity that was lacking in her other genre roles (such as her turn in the already forgotten remake of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”).
For the most part, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is an effective character piece, a suspenseful sleeper that outmatches is gimmicky, and faintly unpleasant forebear. The only real sour note is its ending which needlessly escalates the film’s simple concept and turns “10 Cloverfield Lane” into something far more ridiculous.
By forcing “The Cellar” into the limiting confines of the “Cloverfield” franchise, J.J. Abrams has taken a sharp concept and made it a little duller. Nonetheless, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is still worth your precious time and — if you’re not torrenting it — your hard earned cash.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
“10 Cloverfield Lane”
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Weekender Rating: WWWW
Length: 106 minutes