Director: Dan Tractenberg
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Plot: Michelle (Winstead) wakes up in a bunker with a strange man (Goodman), who claims that the apocalypse happened and they are trapped together for their own safety.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a godsend in terms of how to advertise a movie. Or, in other words, why sometimes the absence of advertising is just as powerful. In January, a trailer was dropped out of nowhere, the release date a mere two months away. We went from having no movie to a ready-to-go film just around the corner in the space of a two minute, gripping trailer. It was beyond fascinating. For one, Cloverfield doesn’t strike audiences as the kind of film that could even get a sequel. A found footage film that ended with pretty much all of its characters, perhaps even a city, dying. Abrams was off making Star Trek and Star Wars. Where was the thrill in returning to a decent, yet middling Sci-Fi movie? However, without so much as a warning, we were moments away from that very sequel. And the film itself was so intriguing, there wasn’t the need for any more advertising? The found footage style was scrapped, the kaiju monster of the original was nowhere to be seen and the story seemed to be based around a young girl trapped in a bunker with a man she didn’t trust. This wasn’t so much a sequel, as a totally different movie wearing Cloverfield’s brand. And in being that, it was endlessly interesting. A movie you were almost definitely going to see.
Its unwillingness to conform to anything remotely attached to the original also means that you enter 10 Cloverfield with a blank mind. It is possible to truly step away from the first film and enjoy 10 Cloverfield Lane as a separate entity, putting us in a truly fascinating and unique frame of mind when watching this sequel. You begin appreciating the movie for the things Tracteneberg does, rather than universe-building. When we strip Cloverfield from the title, we get a tense thriller about two everyday Americans locked in a bunker with a man who may or may not be insane. Perhaps even mentioning Cloverfield kills the best twist (the fun of the movie is trying to figure out if an apocalypse has actually happened or not, but assuming the events of the first film are the catalyst Goodman mentions, that mystery is answered before we even begin), but the characters sell the emotional struggle of their own ignorance. Tractenberg is a master at dialling up tension. You wouldn’t believe this is his first film. The claustrophobic nature of the movie is present throughout, as Winstead and Gallagher Jr. try to plot against Goodman, who appears all-knowing and cunning, and Tractenberg constantly highlights that the character is always only ever two rooms away. For keeping his movie in such a tiny set, there are endless possibilities at play here. 10 Cloverfield Lane rarely gets dull, always finding a playful sequence to rebuild that sense of constant dread. Winstead toys with Goodman by casual flirting at the dinner table. A game of charades is a beautiful red herring. We even get the indulgent pleasure of seeing Winstead, McClane’s daughter from Die Hard 4.0, squeezing through a ventilation shaft. As much as Tractenberg deserves a lion’s share of the compliments I have for this film, I must admit a lot of the best moments are down to the performances. Goodman is terrific, an actor who doesn’t seem to have a peak. This is him at his most complex: a dangerously violent man with enough insecurities and social frustrations that you are always on the verge of pitying him or assuming he will soften up. Moments later, he will swing right back around to villain territory. He turns 10 Cloverfield Lane into a Sci-Fi retelling of Wuthering Heights. However Winstead steals the show. Maybe she has less of a character arc and is asked to portray a similar style of acting to Sandra Bullock in Gravity – running on the simple desire to survive. But it works, her performance so primal and animalistic in her desire to live that we see Winstead pour everything into the role. By the end of this movie, we are pleading that the writers will let her find a way out of her dire situation.
Oh yes, the end of the movie. I am not saying a word about it. Just that it’s an excellent treat for those willing to sit through the slow-burning thriller atmosphere of 10 Cloverfield Lane…
Final Verdict: An unusual yet brilliant marketing campaign climaxes with a brutally tense thriller with key performances and great set-pieces.