Movie Review: '10 Cloverfield Lane' a Surprisingly Tight Thriller

Movie Review: '10 Cloverfield Lane' a Surprisingly Tight Thriller

After a car accident, a young woman wakes up in a fallout shelter chained to a bed. A man tells her there’s been a nuclear event, and she cannot leave the bunker due to radiation in the outside air. He won’t let her leave, as it would compromise his own safety.

But is he telling the truth, or is he really her captor?

It’s a nifty concept, and for a good 70 or 80 minutes 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers perfectly on the premise as a tightly-wound B-movie thriller.

Unfortunately, a lot of the suspense in the film is drained from it by the title alone.

This is, apparently, some kind of sequel or spinoff to the 2008 monster movie Cloverfield, and if you’ve seen that film you know two things right off the bat: that yes, there has been some kind of catastrophic event, and no, it probably isn’t nuclear in nature – it’s giant alien monsters or whatever was briefly glimpsed towards the end of the earlier shakycam found footage film.

Thankfully, 10 Cloverfield Lane does not employ the same filmmaking technique: it takes a straightforward approach to the story and is all the more watchable for it (I liked the earlier film, but have never had an urge to revisit). Director Dan Trachtenberg previously made the widely-seen fan film Portal: No Escape, which brought a similar premise to another pre-established franchise.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars here as Michelle, the girl who wakes up in the bunker, and John Goodman is her savoir/captor Howard. The script, credited to Matthew Stuecken & Josh Campbell and Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle, of all people, does a great job of toying with the audience in regards to Howard’s real role.

John Gallagher Jr. is the only other character of note here as Emmett, a survivor who helped Howard build the bunker and can at least partially back up his story.

The primary cast does a great job with the material; this is essentially a three-character chamber piece that rests on the shoulders of the actors to carry through, and Winstead and (particularly) Goodman do a lot with some fairly limited material.

Still, the film plays its cards a little too soon; once we know what’s what, there’s a real lack of interest in the climactic events.

In its final moments, 10 Cloverfield Lane takes a sharp turn into… strange territory. Certain elements feel like they were added as an afterthought to tie the movie into the Cloverfield universe, and just about derail the whole enterprise. But what comes before it works just fine on its own. 

Had I come into 10 Cloverfield Lane without knowing the title of the movie, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more, though the finale would have certainly thrown me for a loop. Apparently, the cast of the movie wasn’t made aware of the Cloverfield connection during production of the movie; perhaps the director and writers weren’t, either. 

Here’s the thing: there is no real Cloverfield connection here. This is a nifty little thriller in its own right that was packaged with the Cloverfield brand at some point and injected with a few references to the earlier film – which few, if any, audience members will get.

What’s the point? While the strained connection only hurts this film as a standalone feature, it’s apparently easier to sell a movie in today’s marketplace with some kind of franchise attached. Relevance of said franchise notwithstanding. 

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