Film Review – 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane
Love him or hate him, J.J. Abrams knows how to get your attention. His “mystery box” approach to both 10 Cloverfield Lane and it’s spiritual predecessor, involving surprise trailer drops and elaborate ARGs (look it up), can be either invigorating or infuriating depending on your expectations. 2008’s Cloverfield brought in a lot of money and largely positive reviews, but you don’t have to squint hard to find pockets of passionate backlash. I suspect 10 Cloverfield Lane will suffer the same eventual fate. The (rumored late addition) Abrams stamp of approval will bring thrill seekers out in droves, but are they prepared for this intimate, taut pressure cooker of a three person play? I thought I was and consider the first trailer the best of the year so far but… here I sit 2 days later, still unable to shake this masterpiece of claustrophobia.
We’re introduced to Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she high-tails it out of her house in Lake Charles to avoid conflict with her fiancé (a fun voice-only turn from Bradley Cooper). Faster than you can say “American Sniper,” an oncoming truck T-bones her, resulting in brief snippets of destruction cleverly intercut with the bold opening credits. She awakens to find herself hooked up to an IV and chained to the least appealing bed this side of a Motel 6. Her self-appointed caretaker Howard (John Goodman) vaguely explains he pulled Michelle from the wreckage and rushed her to his underground bunker to avoid the Earth’s atmosphere, which is now uninhabitable. Is it the Russians? The Martians? Howard is unclear but informs Michelle she’ll have to make do until the air is safe, approximately a year down the road. Maybe two. Michelle is understandably skeptical. After all, it seems awfully convenient the entire world was destroyed in the brief time she was unconscious. Then again, the bunker’s only other resident, Emmett (The Newsroom‘s John Gallagher, Jr.), claims to have actually fought his way into the bunker as a result of the above-ground devastation. And so it goes.
While the accommodations are to die for (board games, a VCR, AND peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches?!), Howard’s barely-tethered rage leaves Michelle desperate for answers. Emmett, too, begins to suspect all is not as it seems, and he knew Howard before the supposed radioactive attack. I’ll tread lightly here but I think it’s safe to say the bulk of the film takes place in the bunker, and first-time director Dan Trachtenberg expertly ratchets up the tension that builds as Michelle ping-pongs back and forth between suspecting Howard’s intentions and accepting the bigger truth that maybe, just maybe, he’s telling the truth.
To reveal details of the gonzo third act would be a crime and while it doesn’t quite work for me, Trachtenberg’s assured directing and sense of humor keeps it from sinking away into outright schlock. The poster’s tagline, “Monsters Come In Many Forms,” sums up 10 Cloverfield Lane almost absurdly succinctly. Whether it be Martians or an unhinged man with the world’s most ominous playground, you’re gonna wanna stay on your toes.