Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

From first-time director Dan Trachtenberg and the writer of 2013's Whiplash, the fantastically ambiguous 10 Cloverfield Lane crawled out of the shadows of years of development to deliver possibly one of the best thrillers of the year so far. With a slim yet breathtaking cast -- from the versatile John Goodman to the well-known scream queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead -- and a tightly-wound tale of psychological mind games and tense claustrophobic drama, this mysterious sequel-of-sorts managed to entertain me beyond belief, as well as offer yet another favorable directional debut from a man of great potential. 

After surviving a very brisk car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) suddenly finds herself imprisoned in an underground bunker. Dazed and confused, but still maintaining her determination to escape the strange place, she stumbles upon two men living there as well. Fearful of her captors at first, Michelle soon realizes the truth behind her capture. Tasking himself to protect her from a sudden yet highly mysterious chemical attack above-ground, the strangely menacing Howard (John Goodman) invites Michelle into his unorthodox living style in the bunker. Quickly uncovering Howard's true methodical -- and psychopathic -- nature, Michelle and her fellow captive (John Gallagher Jr.) must devise a way to escape, and in turn discover the truth of what actually lies above-ground.   

Slipping out of the shadows just a month before it was released, its first teaser offering little to no insight as to what the film could be about, it wasn't difficult for a film like 10 Cloverfield Lane to provoke my interest. An odd manifestation from first glance, one of the first things I noticed -- like many others out there -- was the title of the film. The word "Cloverfield" jumping out at you like a red herring, it took me a while to realize just how strange yet highly familiar this movie could end up being. Dubbed a "spiritual successor" to 2008's monster-flick Cloverfield, which found six New York City natives fleeing from a grotesque being attacking the city, many began to wonder if 10 Cloverfield could be the sequel they've been waiting for. Not a huge fan of the 2008 flick myself, I entered the film with a minor caution that it could just be another plot-less alien-invasion-type film. What I got, however, was something of an entirely other nature.

Confined within a cozy yet frighteningly claustrophobic bunker throughout the film's entirety, 10 Cloverfield takes you into the mind of both its unique cast, as well as its brilliant new director. Uncovering the characters and their mentalities, as well as what profound things Mr. Trachtenberg does within the film's enclosed environment, this sequel-of-sorts to Cloverfield became less of a rehash or continuation of its predecessor, and more of its own beast. Focusing on brisk yet investing character development rather than overwhelming visuals, 10 Cloverfield Lane grabbed me from its ambiguous teaser, and didn't let go of me until I was even more entrenched in mystery. While it may not be entirely the sequel fans of Cloverfield originally wanted, the film stands alone as a powerful suspense thriller that's ultimately very hard not to spoil.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film had to be, of course, the cast. Even if the main cast consists of a small number of three people, a film such as this which focuses more on character development than cinema flair makes for a very intriguing venture. While some films with a slim cast in a secluded location may not fair so well, there are a select few like 2015's Ex Machina and this one that offer something close to incredible for the audience. Much like Ex Machina found its three characters -- a nerdy, anti-social programmer, a sociopath of superb caliber, and one deceptive android -- confined within a secluded home full of dark corners and false faces, 10 Cloverfield successfully traps its cast within a bunker of psychological disorder. Building up its tightly-wound tension with the excellent acting of veteran John Goodman, as well as two somewhat unfamiliar faces of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr., this film breaths life into its cast, only to drain them of all of their sanity by the film's shocking conclusion.

Leading the cast is quite a familiar face to the Hollywood scene, the sometimes hilarious, occasionally completely off-the-wall John Goodman. A popular player in the odd collection of Coen brothers films, as well as few famed shots as a voice actor in films like Pixar's Monsters Inc., Goodman gained his fame mostly through his iconic voice and his cherry yet completely unhinged persona. While he may have recently faded from his more iconic roles -- one of my favorites being him as the psychotic best friend to Jeff Bridges in 1998's The Big Lebowski -- 10 Cloverfield Lane successful ushered in a new sense of sincere creepiness for the actor. Immensely enjoyable throughout the film, making me both cringe and chuckle at his sinister survivalist role, Goodman performed excellently as the creepy yet oddly relatable "savior" to the rest of the cast.

Making up the remainder of the slim cast, we have two unexpectedly fantastic actors, horror-veteran Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Broadway actor John Gallagher Jr. Both providing the film with superb acting against Goodman's frightening role, this duo really surprised me, especially because I knew little of them before this film. Unfamiliar with many of Winstead's most popular roles -- mostly consisting of scream queen roles in Final Destination 3, Black Christmas, and The Thing -- I really only knew the actress from her earliest role in 2005's Sky High and a more recent entry in 2010's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Entering this film with a worthy performance, mixing seriousness with sarcasm as she navigates her way out of the mysterious bunker holding her, Winstead was fascinating to watch, especially as she took control and built up her leading role in the film's conclusion.

One of the most dynamic aspects of the film had to be Winstead's relationship with fellow captive Emmett, played by Gallagher Jr. An actor with a limited film experience -- his last leading role being the indie drama Short Term 12 in 2013 -- Gallagher Jr. gave quite a convincing performance as he aided Winstead in their escape. One of the most memorable scenes in the film was when Winstead's and Gallagher Jr.'s characters shared a moment of remembrance as they considered their fate. Calling upon their regrets as the world supposedly ends, the two share a brief but emotional scene in the presence of great hysteria.

One of the few negatives I noticed about the film had to be its ending. While the build-up to it is incredible, and you're left with a sensational sense of anticipation when the screen goes black, the third act of the film was without a doubt very flawed. While I won't spoil it for anyone, the most noticeable flaw in the film's ending was how rushed and slightly forced it felt. With the director saying that the film had an original ending to it, rather than the one we got, it begs the question: How might have his original ending changed the impact left by the film as a whole? While the ending we got really didn't hinder the experience for me, providing the audience with a frightening peek at what lies above our bunker-bound cast, I see now that a more concise and definitive ending might have worked in the film's favor.  

Overall, there's still a great amount of obscurity surrounding this film, even after I've reviewed it. From the film's sudden (and somewhat rushed) ending to its mesmerizing and morally-ambiguous characters, 10 Cloverfield Lane was an effective sequel-of-sorts to one of the more memorable monster invasion thrillers of the 21st Century. While it may bare little resemblance to the found-footage flick, the similar frightening theme and look remains, ultimately providing fans of Cloverfield and other similar thrillers with a profoundly entertaining and clever movie experience.

I gave this film an 8 out of 10, because it offered up a dynamic and surprising lead trio in Goodman, Winstead, and Gallagher Jr., an intense and frightening plot that builds tension with every slight of hand, and a systematic realm of mystery around every dark corner the characters find themselves in. Definitely one of the most well-made and enjoyable thrillers we've seen this year, I wouldn't be surprised to see this nail-biter near the top of my list of the best films of 2016.      

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