Movie Review:10 Cloverfield Lane

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Sometimes J.J. Abrams gets an idea and sticks to it come hell or high water like his use of lens flare in his movies. Like all film techniques moderation is probably the best policy, so I get concerned when Abrams leans hard into something for both his own films and pictures he is producing. As a producer on 10 Cloverfield Lane, Abrams’s strict adherence to secrecy and the magic box idea are on full display, but the film—directed by Dan Trachtenberg—is only made the richer from our ignorance. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense and creepy thriller that might not seem like it deserves the Cloverfield moniker, but shares themes and emotional beats from its found footage forbear.

Because 10 Cloverfield Lane works best if you don’t know much about it (Paramount only announced the film a few months ago and never released a full trailer, only teasers), I’ll refrain from spelling out the plot in large strokes. Basically, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a seamstress with some vague relationship issues, takes off on a road trip when she gets into a car accident and wakes up in a fallout shelter built by Howard (John Goodman) a survivalist who thinks the U.S. has been attacked. Also along for the ride is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a handyman who made his way to Howard’s bunker. Was there an attack? Who is Howard? 10 Cloverfield Lane will keep you guessing the most of the way.

With only three principal actors in the film you might be thinking that 10 Cloverfield Lane might be boring or tedious. Nope. 10 Cloverfield Lane feels like a souped-up Misery for a new generation. This movie is tense. And it has a bunch of great moments that made me reel in my seat. Dan Trachtenberg is going to be a great director, you can really feel it throughout this flick.

As a film with only three principals that takes place almost entirely in a tiny bunker, 10 Cloverfield Lane is dependent on its cast to keep the tension high. Winstead is great here, she plays a great character. Michelle is flawed, and smart, and scared, and determined. Winstead is capable and vulnerable. Goodman has a tough job of playing Howard, making us alternately trust and fear him. If you’ve seen The Big Lebowski, you know Goodman can play unhinged. He’s utterly terrifying in this film.

10 Cloverfield Lane does have the small problem of being a sequel of sorts (spiritual, but still a sequel) to a film from a totally different genre. While 10 Cloverfield and Cloverfield share quite a few themes (and perhaps a universe, based on recurring company names that appear in both movies) but that is basically where the similarities end. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a smaller, more intimate affair. It is a thriller first and foremost. I didn’t mind it, but I could definitely see some audiences being super pissed that Paramount used the Cloverfield name in a film that is not a narrative continuation. I will say that I loved both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but certainly for different reasons.

Much Like Cloverfield before it, 10 Cloverfield Lane uses secrecy in its advertising to deliver an intriguing experience. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a smart, tense thriller that pays off nearly every facet of it’s narrative for audiences.

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