Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane is anything but predictable as a follow-up to 2008’s Cloverfield. It bares almost zero similarities to its predecessor in how it’s not a found-footage film and not even about the monster.
The film could best be described as a spin-off, but even that doesn’t do it justice, as no knowledge of Cloverfield is required to enjoy its story. Think of the title more as a buzzword to entice executives for the green light and get butts in the theater. It’s a far more marketable title than the original title The Cellar. You may not get a city-destroying monster, but you won’t be disappointed for swallowing the bait.
The marketing on this picture was genius in how it kept the premise of the picture slightly aloof. The final name and trailer for the picture was revealed just two months before its debut, making the film appear to come out of nowhere. Even the trailer kept the relative plot an enigma of quick shots. I’m tempted to not even reveal anything specific about the movie just so readers can fully enjoy the discovery of it all. I’ll do my best to keep things spoiler free, but consider this fair warning to read at your own risk.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) picks a bad night to drive through Louisiana considering that an alien invasion has begun. Her luck takes a strange turn when she is hit in a car crash and awakens in a room chained to a wall. Fearing the worst, she cowers and pleads in front of her believed captor Howard (John Goodman). But Howard soon reveals that the planet is under attack and that he saved her life.
Once Michelle is able to get up on crutches from her injuries, she discovers she is inside a bunker with all that is required for an extended stay underground. Howard’s crazed nature in preparing for the apocalypse has Michelle concerned for her safety, but the confirmation of doomsday by her closer-in-age roommate Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) leads her to believe she’s safer inside. When she finally gains a glimpse of the terror outside, Michelle finds herself caught between escaping into the dangerous unknown or living with a psychopathic survivalist bent on maintaining his abode.
The majority of the picture takes place inside the bunker as the tension mounts. John Goodman perfectly plays an aged and crazed man who has prepared for the apocalypse. He attempts to take all precautions, but at the risk of his own humanity. This is a character that shifts rapidly between being a violent leader and a shy caregiver; one minute he could be offering you ice cream, the next he’s strangling you.
His paranoia gets the better of him as he starts suspecting a mutiny from the slightest movement of the eye or change in tone – one awkward touch of the hand is all it takes to send him into a furious rage of questioning. The element of a family he has left behind breeds an insanity that makes Michelle and Emmett all the more anxious to escape the bunker. The unease in the air makes the movie so damn engaging that I didn’t even care if the two make it out of Howard’s hole.
Unfortunately, because it carries the title of Cloverfield, we do get to see a monster. This is the singular disappointment of the picture, and it’s rather amusing that it happens to be the marketable selling point. By the time we get to the computer-generated monster, which appears as uninteresting as any other movie monster in the past decade, it feels almost inappropriately out of place for the story. It’s such a shoehorned element of science fiction that nearly ruins the picture by not ending it after the escape from the bunker.
The best part of the movie has concluded at this point and a monster battle is not required. But I guess in today’s world of action-hungry moviegoers you’re not allowed to make a Twilight Zone style thriller if there isn’t an explosion or an alien. At least this film has the strength to shove the commercial selling point far into the back of the picture to allow for a much more interesting horror picture.
Despite its lackluster ending, 10 Cloverfield Lane has a powerful grip as one of the best bottle movies in years. It’s as chilling as you’d expect for being trapped in a confined space with John Goodman going nuts. The smart filmmaking and engrossing premise make this title far more than just a distant cousin to a monster movie if it even is considered that.
But if it does fit the minimum requirements of a monster movie, it may be the best of the genre for handing over all the screen time and development to the human characters. Sorry, unnamed alien that blows up in an action sequence, but you’re too boring for this picture – just wait outside until we need you.