10 Cloverfield Lane. 2016. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Screenplay by Josh Campbell, Damien Chazelle, & Matthew Stuecken.
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr, Douglas M. Griffin, Suzanne Cryer, Bradley Cooper, Sumalee Montano, & Frank Mottek. Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot/Spectrum Effects.
Rated 14A. 103 minutes.
I was never a fan of Cloverfield. The movie never reeled me in enough to be effective. By the end I was just glad the thing had finished. At the same time, there were some elements I did enjoy. It was all very mysterious. To my surprise, J.J. Abrams came out awhile back and revealed they’d secretly worked on this little same-universe flick parallel to the original 2008 film. That alone intrigued me, the secretive nature of its production. Then there’s the fact Damien Chazelle had a part in writing it, first time feature for director Dan Trachtenberg. Plus they went and got three great actors – John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr – to help make the entire thing even more exciting. And it’s the mystery again, even more so, that makes the film compelling.
This is a great slow burn. Even without Cloverfield so obviously looming over everything, this could stand on its own. At the same time, the fact we know about what’s been happening because of that first movie adds a special ingredient to make the tension and the suspense, all that mystery so distressing.
For all intents and purposes, 10 Cloverfield Lane could be performed as a stage play, confining all its wonderful character development and mysterious plot elements into the suffocating location of a survivalist’s bunker. Further than that, the writing takes you from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, never failing to evoke paranoia.
One thing’s for certain, you’ll find even as the plot burns slow the excitement never ceases.
The writing is great here. Especially the film’s dialogue, which is both endearing and at times bitingly comic (“And I know I seem like a sensible guy, but at the time I wasn‘t myself“). As a fellow writer, I’ve always found it tough to write genuine dialogue because you almost want to hear the conversation aloud yourself. But the screenplay here is natural, for such an unnatural situation and series of events. That’s part of its strength. In making the characters feel so incredibly real, so vivid, the screenwriters – Chazelle alongside Joseph Campbell and Matthew Stuecken – allow this mysterious story come across authentic. No matter if your film’s story is science fiction or even fantasy, the plausibility of its premise and the resulting situations in which you put the characters works if those characters feel like real people.
One of my favourite moments is when they’re playing the game together – the whole Santa Claus bit was super clever and all around well-written/acted. A perfect little scene that reveals so much in a bold, creepy way.
In addition, the plot’s mysterious structure in the first half shifts heading into the second, which brings out an even more interesting dynamic between the characters. All of a sudden the entire thing has changed. As a fan of Psycho and the classic shifting screenplay, as I call it, this is something I enjoy; when a movie can start out headed in one direction seemingly then navigate a whole new course, or a couple new courses, before the end of the line. The whole movie is one tense and consistently surprising ride.
The well-written script is aided by the fantastic performances. Goodman is someone I’ve loved a long time, his talent is tremendous. His character is complex, and we make it almost to the halfway point before figuring out whether or not the man is genuine, or if he’s a terrifying psychopath. And it’s not just the writing, Goodman brings across that friendly quality while also still capable of being menacing. Then there’s Winstead, whose chemistry with Goodman makes for a tense relationship between characters. She is a talented actor I first noticed significantly in 2014’s knockout indie Faults opposite Leland Orser. She has that sort of girl next door appeal, she also plays a strong female character, so having her between the other two (male) leads is perfect. And Gallagher is a nice third party to Goodman and Winstead. Likewise, he has a boy next door charm. He’s enthusiastic in every role, even when playing a murderer. Here he’s no murderer, just another confused soul left behind in the aftermath of some major event, a man trying to go along to get along. Once the plot shifts a little and we figure more things out, his character is fun. His acting talents get the chance to shine, here and there.
Bear McCreary is one talented son of a bitch. Everyone now knows him for his excellent work on The Walking Dead. I first heard his music in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, funny enough. But his talents extend into a ton of different places, such as the new A&E show Damien I’ve been digging, among a ton of other stuff. He does some very classic, eerie sounding horror-mystery stuff. It’s never derivative, and that’s most likely why McCreary has experienced a massive influx of work over the past few years. He gives us stuff that sounds and feels familiar yet has his own indelible sound, as well. On top of the score, there’s a nice soundtrack including Tommy James and The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”, in such an ironic little montage that it’ll make you smile wide.
Trachtenberg does a swell job directing this film. He keeps everything tight and claustrophobic, even more so than just the location. A lot of his shots inside that bunker are fun, unique, and help push the whole story along. This is a 4&1/2-star film for me. It is entirely a wonderful experience. With the background of 2008’s Cloverfield, this story soars in an entirely unexpected way. Parallel to the events of that film this smaller, more personal drama unfolds with plenty of mystery and a steady dose of horror nearing the finale. Not only that, the plot shifts several times to keep the audience guessing, and you can never be totally sure what’s coming next.
I’d love to see another spin-off in the same timeframe as Cloverfield, which has the potential to go anywhere after this awesome little movie shows us there isn’t only one way to envision the possible end of the Earth as we know it.