10_cloverfield_lane_1Year: 2016
Director(s): Dan Trachtenberg
Writer(s): Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 113 mins

Synopsis: After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter by two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack. (Source)

10 Cloverfield Lane is a monster movie, but not the kind you think it is. Revolving around a mysterious apocalyptic event, the film questions who or what the greatest threat actually is – the dangerous, unknown conditions that lay just outside of our door, or the survival instincts which trigger a darkness within the souls of three trapped survivors. Within a brief runtime, the script is extremely economical and features a deep exploration of regret, guilt and abuse.

Waking up after a freak car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself in a subterranean bunker, seemingly “rescued” by Howard (John Goodman in a show-stealing performance), a doomsday prepper. Also taking shelter is another man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), who helped Howard build the bunker. Having blacked out when the world was still at some state of normalcy, Michelle greatly distrusts Howard’s story of a chemical attack that has possibly rendered the air above toxic. As the trio come to terms with each other and their situation, secrets begin to come to light and put them at risk, both from each other, and the dangers that lurk nearby.

What’s most brilliant about this pseudo Cloverfield sequel is the Twilight Zone-esque anthology approach. It’s not at all a sequel, but a chamber piece that plays out like a taut, psychological thriller. For the majority of the film, we question what is happening above ground and who is responsible, for which the characters have their share of theories, but it’s all really a means to explore the psychological implications of Michelle’s captivity and the tenuous bonds that form between each conflicted survivor. Director Dan Trachtenberg shows that he isn’t a lightweight when it comes to these heavy themes – though it is his first feature, his camera angles create claustrophobia, disorientation and smartly use the limited sets to immerse us into pure danger. His approach immediately pulls us in once we enter the bunker, and there is no escape for these characters and their broken psyches, or us, the viewer.

10_cloverfield_lane_2As Michelle, Mary Elizabeth Winstead again proves a criminally underrated talent. She shares a story in the film’s second act about letting her brother stand up for her and fight her battles that is filled with anguish and sincerity. From the moment she wakes, she shows us a resourceful heroine with dimension and nuanced depth. Impressively, these traits carry through all the way into the final moments of the film – impressive for a Hollywood blockbuster of this nature.

Stealing the entire show is John Goodman in a downright frightening performance. Known for playing (more often than not) lovable, memorable guys, Goodman is brooding, threatening, yet at times empathetic and even endearing. Is his story about a chemical attack true or is something far more sinister at play? John Gallagher Jr is a great contrast to him as Emmett, acting as a variable who makes us question the dynamic between Goodman and Winstead multiple times throughout.

An amazing cast, incredible direction and a great emotional arc for the lead character create a dense portrait of paranoia, distrust and overcoming past demons. Adding to the density is composer Bear McCreary’s incredible score, which utilizes former child actor Craig Huxley’s blaster beam and an Indian Tambura. Atmosphere is brought to life by set designers Kellie Jo Tinney and Michelle Marchand, II. Every book, frame, and plate adds a strangely demented sense of home to a space created for surviving the ultimate disaster.The ending may ultimately divide the audience, but as a first film from Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an exercise in suspense we didn’t know we wanted.