Catching Up: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Director: Dan Tratchenberg
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr., Bradley Cooper’s voice
Note: I've been such a slacker this year. I wrote this review after seeing it in theaters in March. Why I've waited till now to publish, I do not know. Anyway, I hope you enjoy!
The trailers for 10 Cloverfield Lane revealed nothing about the movie except that it has a good cast, it takes place mostly inside a doomsday bunker, and theres something bad happening outside. Apart from that, there was really nothing to go on. What was the story? What did Winstead see when she looked outside at the end of the trailer? More to the point, why did the usually genial John Goodman look so friggin’ mean?
Only those who have seen the movie know the truth now, and that is how it should be. Assuming you haven’t already seen this movie, I will refrain from giving an in depth plot synopsis with this review. The less you know about this relentlessly intense jewel of a thriller going in, the better.
It begins with a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packing up her things and leaving her apartment while her abusive husband is away at work. Right from the beginning, the movie has us under its spell. Theres little to no dialogue here, but debut filmmaker Dan Tratchenberg is able to set-up the leading lady’s story by relying on Winstead’s stellar performance and knowing exactly where to place the camera and when to move it. Its brilliant filmmaking.
After a quick stop at a gas station one night, Michelle is rammed off the road by a mysterious driver. When she wakes up, she finds her leg chained to a stone wall and an IV in her arm. Her “rescuer” Howard (John Goodman) comes in with a tray of food and tells her that he saved her life. Its dangerous outside, he says, and the only way for her to survive is to stay in the bunker he helped make and live by his rules.
Is he telling her the truth? Has something happened outside, or is he just a psychopath who kidnapped her and is holding her against her will? The movie has us asking these questions for the majority of the film, and it is in those moments that the movie is at its best. There are hints that something is indeed happening on the outside world, but Howard is such a volatile and unpredictably violent character that it seems very likely that it might be more dangerous staying inside the bunker than going out.
The performances add considerably to the tension. John Goodman is absolutely riveting as Howard, a man who at times comes across as likable and endearing, but can snap into a frighteningly violent episode in the blink of an eye (theres a dinner scene early on thats almost painful in its intensity). Sometimes we’ll see the anger rising, such as when he’ll start clenching his fists repeatedly, whereas other times we’re not sure what he's thinking and what his intentions are (just look at the scary game of charades thats played later on).
According to IMDB, Winstead was the first and only choice to play Michelle, and it isn’t hard to see why. Simply put, she’s excellent, although you’d expect nothing less from her. Her Michelle is not a damsel in distress, but rather an extremely smart and resourceful young woman who can take care of herself. When she first wakes up in the bunker, she doesn’t just sit there whimpering. She makes a number of efforts to escape her situation, going so far as to create a weapon out of a crutch Howard gave her to use. She’s also not a one-note bad ass, either. She brings much vulnerability and humanity to her role, especially during the scene where she reveals her main regret to the third character in the bunker, a young man named Emmett.
Which brings us to John Gallagher, Jr. An immensely charming actor who won me over in 2013’s superb Short Term 12, he imbues his character with an innate likability, but there came a point where I started to question his character’s motives. Just hear me out. He tells Michelle that he helped Howard build the bunker, yes? If Howard is indeed crazy, is he an accomplice in some way? If so, can he really be trusted? Did he play some part in…
See, now I’ve said too much. To reveal any more about the plot would be downright criminal on my part. I can say that the final fifteen minutes take place outside the bunker (some of the TV spots reveal that much), and we finally learn the truth about whats really going on outside. Given how terrific many of the scenes inside the bunker are, the climactic moments can’t help but feel a little bit like a letdown. Some of it is admittedly entertaining (Winstead’s reaction to a particular moment is priceless), while some of it is just downright goofy (such as when a Molotov cocktail comes into play).
That said, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a riveting and entertaining thriller. Its suspenseful as heck, and even though the ending is the weakest part of the movie, the visuals are consistently engrossing from start to finish. Special mention must be made of the eerie music by Bear McCreary, whose violin piece during the Paramount Pictures logo at the beginning was so hypnotic that it immediately hooked me. You know you’re watching a good movie when you find yourself hooked before the first fade in.
Rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing images, some strong language.
Final Grade: *** ½ (out of ****)