In January of this year, a trailer dropped seemingly out of nowhere bearing the name 10 Cloverfield Lane. A Bad Robot Production with a title bearing the moniker ‘Cloverfield’ was something to take note of, as after years of speculation it seemed we were going to receive something akin to a Cloverfield sequel. Hiding behind a certain Star Wars, J.J. Abrams managed to shepherd this project in plain sight, and was quick to establish that this was not a straight sequel, more a spiritual sequel that would keep the Cloverfield brand alive through an anthology series. It is an inspired idea, allow a certain brand awareness to create Science Fiction projects that allow promising new talents a shot at something well within the public’s attention. Hopefully it is the start of many similar projects, as 10 Cloverfield Lane declares itself to be a thrilling début for its young director, Dan Trachtenberg.
After a fight with her fiancée, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves her home in New Orleans, very much aiming to get as far away from her problems as possible. However, as she is driving through rural Louisiana, she is involved in a car crash and wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker. She is approached by a man called Howard (John Goodman) who informs her that there has been an attack of unknown origin on the surface, rendering the outside world as a dangerous, poisonous landscape. With seemingly no choice but to stay in the bunker, along with another inhabitant Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), Michelle has to decide whether Howard is worth trusting, if something more sinister is at play, and find out whether or not something has actually happened on the surface.
It is best for one to know straight off that this Cloverfield has nothing to do with Matt Reeves’ found-footage monster movie from 2008. While this film does deal with the idea of monsters, it is not quite in the literal sense as Reeves’ 9/11 paranoia driven monster movie, rather more about what monstrous acts can be capable of. It retains a certain sense of paranoia, but in a more pared-down thriller scenario,set predominantly in one location with only three characters involved in the proceedings. It allows for 10 Cloverfield Lane to be a more character driven piece, enabling Trachtenberg to demonstrate strength in crafting tension and with working with actors.
The three players involved all turn in well judged performances, never being too overtly dramatic and grounding the proceedings very well. Gallagher Jr provides a refreshing levity, but the film belongs to both John Good man and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead is our guide throughout most of the proceedings, and she is put through the wringer on many occasions, and she does well to earn our sympathy and empathy as a young woman thrown into many an unpredictable and volatile situation. Goodman is the best he has been in years, evoking both sympathy and menace often at the same time to provide a character who remains mysterious and treacherous throughout.
Much of 10 Cloverfield Lane rides on Trachtenberg’s skill at handling a chamber piece, aided by a screenplay which places character over spectacle, for the most part anyway. The final act requires something of a leap of faith, and while it proves to be quite cathartic in the grand scheme of the narrative, it ultimately isn’t as controlled or as sophisticated as what has come before. It segues into another genre not quite as smoothly as it would like, leading to a pay-off that feels strangely uninspired when compared to the superior and tightly wound proceedings of the first two thirds.
Dan Trachtenberg, a man who only really had a strong Portal inspired short film under his belt, uses this opportunity to truly showcase his confidence as a film-maker, and particularly a strength with actors as well as high concepts. Even if the more grandiose finale is the weak-point of the proceedings, he still demonstrates a strong handling of visuals and character focus. Whatever he decides to do in the future, it will undoubtedly be a point of interest for myself and many others, as he exhibits traits that could well mark him as, dare I say it, the next Abrams.