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10 Cloverfield Lane review: tense and inventive thriller
March 15, 2016
Let’s get one thing clear from the get-go: 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield – at least not in any conventional sense. It doesn’t follow on from those events, feature any of the same characters or that film’s city-levelling giant monster, or even include the much-derided shakycam footage. What it does share is some of Cloverfield’s DNA – its love of mystery (inherited from producer JJ Abrams), its playful experimentation, its sense of darkness-tinged fun.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Michelle, who we first meet in the process of abandoning her life and striking out on her own. One grinding, crashing car accident later, and she wakes up in a dingy basement bunker, with only the company of Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). The world has ended, they tell her, the U.S. under attack from forces unknown. They don’t know much, except that the air is contaminated, the outside world unsafe, and this bunker her new world.
All of which would be troubling enough, of course, except that the only authority on the matter is Goodman’s Howard, an avowed doomsday prepper and certified conspiracy theorist. When the person telling you the world has ended is one of the few who arguably wanted it to happen in the first place, it’s understandably difficult to know what to think.
The script (which boasts input from none other than Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle) toys with this ambiguity mercilessly, offering tantalising teases in both directions. Every time it offers what seems to be proof, it leaves just enough doubt to keep the audience – and Michelle – guessing.
A great part of that intrigue rests on Goodman’s performance, which eschews the cuddly joviality of the typecast Goodman performance in favour of a sinister tone he gets to bring out all too rarely elsewhere. Inside the bunker’s closed quarters, he’s a towering figure, threatening by his sheer presence, but it’s his manner that’s truly concerning. Brusque, aggressive, seething with barely concealed insecurities, he’s as alarming serving up spaghetti as any of Hollywood’s horrors.
Winstead holds her own against him, though the film rarely stretches her talents. Michelle is most notable for her consistent competence though – she’s no damsel in distress or helpless victim. Proactive and resourceful, she does her best to MacGyver her way out of the film’s frequent perils with some satisfyingly inventive solutions.
Much has been made of the film’s sense of mystery – not least because Abrams somehow snuck it through production without anyone even knowing it existed. Thankfully, there’s more going on here than just a spot of intrigue and a big twist ending, and there’s plenty to suggest that 10 Cloverfield Lane will stand up to repeat viewings just fine, surprise be damned. Goodman’s performance comfortably stands on its own beyond the film’s gimmicks, and there are a few set pieces that are irresistibly tense.
This may not be Cloverfield 2, but it’s all the better for it. There’s a creative approach to a few familiar tropes, and some knowing nods to the genre. If the Cloverfield name is to herald a sort of sci-fi anthology series – of the sort enjoying a revival on TV thanks to the likes of American Horror Story – it would be a welcome presence, a refreshing alternative to sequelitis and Marvel-style shared universes. Here’s hoping Abrams has somehow secretly made the next one already.
Words by Dominic Preston