10 Cloverfield Lane
Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
There are so many genre films released in such rapid succession these days, that it’s a soothing rarity to discover a film that mines familiar ground, but ultimately delivers surprises and chills with equal measure. 10 Cloverfield Lane is one such film.
Eight years ago, Matt Reeves plucked a number of relatively unknown actors out and dropped them into a New York City apartment during a surprise party, an event brought to an end by a massive blackout and a strange, massive creature rampaging through the city, stalking them all and killing them one by one. This found-footage horror flick, Cloverfield, developed a cult following and, while it was largely entertaining, it didn’t plow any new ground and certainly didn’t deliver the same level of thrills and excitement as it should have.
Moving half way across the country, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a lateral sequel. It takes place in the same world and during the same events as Cloverfield, but turns the narrative into a locked-room drama. Three survivors of a supposed aerosol attack are hunkered down in a bunker where the owner’s (John Goodman) motives are in question early on, but even out as the piece moves forward.
A trio of solid performances punctuate the drama. Goodman is at the top of the list with darkly disturbing polarizing shifts in mood that at once both frighten and comfort the audience. This is the most unsettling performance Goodman has ever given. It’s so good that it might just deserve Oscar consideration, if voters can get past their distaste for genre pics. Equally compelling are Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the young woman he’s taken in after a near-fatal car accident and John Gallagher Jr. as a construction worker who had to wrestle his way into the compound.
Winstead doesn’t rely solely on traditional stereotypes to sell her character, giving her a fresh, empowering feel. This is a woman whose main goal was to retreat across the country in an effort to escape her domineering boyfriend who perpetually calls her cell phone hoping to regain her favor. With frequent thematic similarities to her past relationship, her grim determination is the lifeblood of the film. Gallagher does the opposite, creating a meek, uncomplicated young man who means well, but is in far over his head. While he successfully wedged his way into the compound, that gentility may win him the girl, but will it be enough to handle every situation that will eventually be thrown at them.
Director Dan Trachtenberg delivers a mesmerizing and chilling drama. He develops tension with ease and never lets the audience forget that events can turn on a moment’s notice. Going in, it’s difficult to believe a film like this could run 103 minutes, but not only do he and screenwriters Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Oscar nominee Damien Chazelle succeed, they do so without struggle and with supreme confidence. This is a drama that plays on common themes and tropes and builds something that redefines the genre while residing almost entirely within it.
Going into specifics would ruin half the fun of the film, but suffice it to say, when we finally get to the end, we are left reinvigorated, hoping desperately for another sequel. Whether 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers on the promise of the continued adventures of the surviving characters, it ultimately suggests that there are plenty of other stories left to tell when the apocalypse is on your doorstep.
August 18, 2016