Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Material including Frightening Sequences of Threat with some Violence, and brief Language
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Written by: Josh Campbel, Matt Stuecken & Damien Chazelle
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman & John Gallagher, Jr.
In 2008, CLOVERFIELD broke a box office record and made a huge splash among the general public. Though I didn’t quite love that film as much as most people did, I enjoyed it as dumb popcorn entertainment. Buzz about a possible sequel had been circulating for years, but no official announcements were made until January 14, 2016 (under two months before this film was slated to be released). Producer J.J. Abrams kept production details for this film under wraps in order to surprise the hell out of everyone. While the publicity and excitement for 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE have been off the wall, I would advise that you don’t walk in expecting CLOVERFIELD 2. This has been described as a “spiritual sequel” and “blood relative” to the original film. I would say that it couldn’t be further from the found footage predecessor…which is a hugely positive thing. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is an incredibly tense, very scary pressure cooker flick that just happens to take place in a monster movie atmosphere.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has abandoned her fiancé after an intense argument. After a quick stop at a gas station, she winds up in a car accident and awakens in the doomsday bunker of Howard (John Goodman). Her mysterious rescuer/possible captor(?) informs her that a massive attack has taken place and contaminated the air. This leaves Michelle, Howard, and twenty-something Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) as three survivors stuck in an underground fallout shelter. However, the possible horrors lurking above ground are nothing compared to what people are capable of.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is extremely well-made, far better than its small budget would suggest. Though this isn’t exactly a special effects heavy extravaganza, the visuals look slick. Even when CG effects are on the screen, they look great and we only see what we absolutely have to. In this sense, the unknown remains scarier than anything the film can directly show us. The film’s score is all-around excellent and adds a extra-creepy factor to the already creepy proceedings. The film milks a huge amount of tension and scares out of a small-scale story, which is impressive in and of itself.
Speaking of small-scale, the three main cast members are fantastic in their roles. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle as a protagonist who is flawed and has issues, but remains completely compelling to watch. I was rooting for her the whole way through. There are many dialogue-free scenes where Winstead dominates the screen with her strong performance in which no words are necessary. John Gallagher Jr. adds some humor as Emmett. Though he receives quite a few big laughs through smart-ass bits of dialogue and awkward moments, Emmett isn’t simply a one-note comic relief character. Conversations between Michelle and Emmett develop their characters smoothly through tidbits of information that don’t feel forced in any way whatsoever.
While I love Gallagher and Winstead, the biggest standout is John Goodman as Howard. This character makes the viewer feel uneasy in every single scene. Even when early plot developments suggested that the viewer might be judging Howard too harshly, Goodman’s body language and line delivery had me on the edge of my seat. He’s a character that you can’t fully read and that makes him dangerous. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I’m getting at, but know that Goodman delivers a great performance and you likely won’t forget about Howard after you exit the theater.
With all of these positive qualities kept in mind, the best thing about 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is its screenplay. This script passed through multiple drafts (originally titled THE CELLAR and having nothing to do with CLOVERFIELD) and screenwriters (including Damien Chazelle, writer and director of WHIPLASH) before making its way to the big screen. When a project endures a lot of production stalls and revisions, it usually spells the kiss of death for quality filmmaking. In this aspect, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is something of a cinematic miracle. The movie doesn’t treat the viewer like a moron or feel the need to spell every single tiny detail out for them. Its smart writing lets your imagination fill in the gaps and will almost certainly lead to lengthy conversations afterwards.
The suspense in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE never lets up. Certain sequences had me unconsciously putting my hand up to my mouth in sheer nervousness and I rarely do that during any movie. The pacing somehow manages to feel like a slow burn and simultaneously rushes past you. I was shocked at how fast those 103 minutes flew by. The three main characters are fascinating to watch and the film is all-around well-made. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is something extremely rare in that it’s a monster movie where the actual monster doesn’t necessarily matter. Giant monsters and poison gas need not apply when people can be plenty terrifying by themselves.