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10 Cloverfield Lane (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane


Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr., Douglas M. Griffin, Suzanne Cryer and the voices of Frank Mottek, Sumalee Montano and Bradley Cooper.

Screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  103 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Several years ago, a savvy preview campaign of advertising and web buzz made a surprisingly big hit out of a low-budget handheld sci-fi horror film about a bunch of New York party people who experience an alien attack of the city.  Strangely, that monster movie had the inscrutable name of Cloverfield.  It turned out Cloverfield did not really reference anything that happened on the screen, it was the name of a highway off ramp in Santa Monica that leads to the office of producer JJ Abrams.

Now, years later, he returns with a new film with the similarly cryptic title 10 Cloverfield Lane.   The return of the Cloverfield name led people to wonder if it was a sequel.  It’s not, at least not exactly, though I hope it’s not a spoiler to say it takes place in the same basic universe as the original film.  (You honestly don’t know this fact for sure until like 15 minutes from the end.)  At least this time the title does play a part in the movie.  It is the address of the rural Texas or Louisiana property where all of the action takes place, as we learn from a banged-up mailbox towards the end of the film.

In certain ways 10 Cloverfield Lane is very similar to it’s predecessor – it is done on a shoestring budget and has a claustrophobic mounting dread – but in many more ways it is quite different.

First of all, thankfully they dropped the clunky hand-held camera feel of the first.  Almost all of the film takes place in a small bomb shelter, with only three actors having significant screen time.  To be honest, John Goodman is a much better actor than any of the pretty-but-mostly-unknown actors in the first film, which like most found footage films went out of its way not to have any overly recognizable faces.  (Lizzy Caplan, TJ Miller, Mike Vogel and Odette Annable have all gone on to find varying levels of success in the seven years since Cloverfield, but none of them was given much “acting” to do in the original film.)

In the new film, Abrams plays it smart by making it seem to be a completely different storyline, with just the lingering dread that it is all part of the greater Cloverfield narrative.  Instead of a wide-ranging look at a city under attack, 10 Cloverfield Lane is very rural, and only has three characters of any real consequence.

The lead character is Michelle (Winstead), a smart and pretty fashion designer.  One night she is driving on a rural highway and misses a near head-on collision with another driver, however her car goes off the road and rolls.

Next thing she knows, she wakes up in a strange room.  She has a cast on her leg, is badly banged up, chained to a mattress on the floor.  The room appears to be bolted shut.  Some an unnerving middle-aged man named Howard (Goodman) comes to feed her and clean some of her wounds.  He tells her that he saved her from her car before it exploded.  He has taken her to a bomb shelter he had built, because some sort of disease has wiped out the human population.

Michelle doesn’t buy that for a second, but a second man turns out to be in the shelter as well.  Emmitt (Gallagher) seems much more level-headed, and he confirms that Howard’s apocalypse story is true, he had helped Howard build the place and hightailed it there when it turned out that people were dying.  Eventually, an escape attempt by Michelle confirms even more clearly that something horrific is going on outside of the bunker.

Therefore, Michelle makes things as comfortable as possible there.  She and Emmitt become close friends and the whole group becomes a little nuclear family over the coming weeks.  Due to generators and supplies, they have plenty of food, music, videos, whatever they need to pass the time in the post-Apocalypse.

However, something about Howard still seems off.  As Michelle and Emmitt are exploring the bunker, they stumble upon little clues that suggest that perhaps the bunker was not just for survivalism, perhaps Howard had been kidnapping women and bringing them there.  Which raises the question: Is it better to survive some sort of apocalypse if you are essentially alone with someone who appears to be a madman?

It’s an intriguing idea, and completely off pace of the whole Cloverfield storyline.

The ways that Abrams and director Dan Trachtenberg take this plot and maneuver it into the direction of the larger storyline is fascinating.  10 Cloverfield Lane is a terrific claustrophobic thriller for completely different reasons than the first film of the series.  Yet, in the end, the two stories dovetail nicely.

The end of the film suggests that there will be more movies to come in the series.  (Hopefully they won’t wait seven years again for the next one.)  It will be interesting to see if they continue to make them separate storylines or if they will eventually start to merge together.  It’s too early to guess yet, but on the evidence of the first two films, they have earned the right to explore this decimated society more deeply.  I’m in for the next one, at least.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: April 3, 2016.

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