I’ve said numerous times here that I am a fan of the work done by JJ Abrams and Bad Robot, not just with films but with marketing. Whereas other studios are making every detail of a film known before it comes out (just look at the way Warner Bros has marketed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), Bad Robot has a reputation for secrecy and no-where was that more apparent than with the original Cloverfield, where we didn’t even know the title for a few months, built off the back of a genius viral marketing campaign and recently Bad Robot did it again. I had heard about this film back when it was called The Cellar but didn’t pay much mind to it, then, in January, the film was revealed when the trailer was released with 13 Hours. The fact that the film was made wasn’t what shocked everyone though, it was that the release date was set for March. Just when I thought Bad Robot couldn’t surprise me anymore, they made a film in secret and set the release date two months after it was announced, the fact the film is one of the most intense thrillers I’ve seen recently is just the icing on the cake.
The film concerns Michelle, an aspiring fashion designer who has just broken up with her boyfriend when she gets into a car crash. Upon waking up, she finds herself in a bunker, being told by the person who’s bunker she’s in, Howard, that there was an attack which left the outside world irradiated and that she needs to stay in the bunker for her own safety, alongside Howard and Emmett, another supposed survivor. However, things don’t quite add up for Michelle and she is left to discover whether or not Howard is lying and of he is, figure out a way to escape. The thing to say right off the bat is that this isn’t a sequel to Cloverfield. What has happened is that this was a script written without the Cloverfield name, but which JJ Abrams and Bad Robot have put the Cloverfield name onto in order to get people to see it, turning Cloverfield into an anthology series. With that out of the way, on it’s own merits, this is an incredibly engaging plot. The way the characters behave feel really natural, with there being a lot of ambiguity about everything that is happening, this ambiguity creating a lot of tension throughout the film. The escalation of the tension feels really natural and there are plenty of moments which made me jumpy because of how suspenseful they were, aided by the strong writing for the characters, which I’ll get into later. The only part where it did kind of lose me was at the ending, it was good, but compared to the high tension in the rest of the film, it did leave me a bit underwhelmed.
The characters though are where the film shines, the writing and the performances helping to create some of the most engaging characters in a thriller that will be seen this year. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle is excellent. The character development she goes through, from someone who runs away from all her problems, not wanting to intervene in anything to protect herself, into a hardened survivor is incredibly engaging to watch. She also presents her intelligence well throughout the film, a lot of it through the body language and facial expressions of Winstead as she absorbs the information around her and using it to her advantage throughout, especially at the start of the film when she’s uses what she has around her and the idiosyncrasies of Howard, playing into them to enact her plans. John Gallagher Jr as Emmett is also great. He’s more of the comic relief of the film, his actions providing some relief after the more intense scenes in the film, with this being matched by a strong character arc, in many ways similar to Michelle, using his time in the bunker to think about the things he could have done, the regrets clearly seen in Gallagher’s face. The standout in the film though is John Goodman as Howard, who is absolutely terrifying. There’s this creepiness to the character that encompasses the entire film, not just his paranoia, acting exactly like you’d expect a person who has built an underground bunker for long term survival after nuclear war to act, but through the way he treats Michelle and Emmett. It’s clear he wants Michelle to himself and is angry over having Emmett in the situation with him and the ways he tries to mould Michelle, telling her that she’ll learn to love cooking and his anger over any affection she shows to Emmett having a predatory feel to them which Goodman portrays brilliantly. It’s also clear there are some underlying issues with the character which impact the way he acts which, as we find out more about them, make him even creepier. The anger hiding just under the surface of the character and the knowledge that he’ll do anything to get his own wat creates some of the best tension in the film and every aspect of the performance is nailed by Goodman.
On a technical level the film is very impressive. Dan Trachtenberg does a brilliant job directing the film, highlighting the claustrophobic atmosphere of the bunker and helping to build the tension in a very classic way. The direction and cinematography Is very static throughout most of the film, allowing the audience to gain a feel for the geography of the bunker, whilst allowing the more shocking moments of the film to feel genuinely shocking because of how underplayed the direction is for the most part. The design of the bunker itself is excellent, the extent of everything in the bunker allowing the audience to gain a handle on Howard’s paranoia without him needing to say a single word. The atmosphere of the film is also aided by Bear McCreary’s music which kicks up at just the right moments and adds to the foreboding atmosphere developed throughout the film.
Overall, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a vey tense, engaging thriller, bolstered by an intelligent script, strong direction and excellent performances, in particular an absolutely terrifying John Goodman. The ending didn’t quite work for me, but the rest of the film was so brilliant that I am willing to overlook it and if this is the start of Cloverfield as an anthology series then I can’t wait to see the next film to bare the Cloverfield name.
My Rating: 4.5/5