10 Cloverfield Lane has little in common with Cloverfield but is, nevertheless, a clever, thrilling, and downright fun movie experience.
After a fight with her fiancee, aspiring fashion designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packs her things and hits the open road – leaving her apartment and engagement ring behind. However, after fueling-up at a rural gas station, Michelle’s car is struck by another driver, knocking her unconscious, as her vehicle tumbles off the road. Following the accident, Michelle awakens in unfamiliar surroundings – she’s handcuffed to the wall of a sparse, concrete room with no windows. In time, Michelle learns that she is the guest of a mysterious doomsday prepper, Howard Stambler (John Goodman), who claims to have stumbled upon her wrecked car, rescued her, treated her wounds, and brought her to his underground fallout shelter to recover – on the eve of an extinction-level nuclear disaster that rendered Earth’s surface uninhabitable.
In spite of her suspicions, and with no alternative choices, Michelle attempts to embrace life underground. Though, with no first-hand knowledge of the alleged danger up on the surface, she struggles to trust Stambler, given that her rescuer could be mistaken, completely insane, or worst of all – intentionally holding her hostage under false pretense.
While many moviegoers might assume that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sequel to the fan-favorite found-footage kaiju film Cloverfield from director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), 10 Cloverfield Lane was actually developed, initially, as a standalone story from John Campbell and Matt Stuecken. Originally dubbed The Cellar, the film was rebranded under the Cloverfield series banner when Paramount Pictures, and Cloverfield producer J.J. Abrams, acquired the script. Ultimately, the movie’s journey to the big screen doesn’t undercut 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s quality as a standalone tale but viewers hoping for a direct sequel to Cloverfield will find sparse (at best) connective tissue within the film’s world and story. That’s all to say, 10 Cloverfield Lane has little in common with Cloverfield but is, nevertheless, a clever, thrilling, and downright fun movie experience.
Former Totally Rad Show co-creator, and Portal: No Escape director, Dan Trachtenberg helms 10 Cloverfield Lane – and the freshman filmmaker proves himself in both storytelling and visual flare. Despite a straightforward setting, Trachtenberg injects rich world-building and cinematic flourishes that enliven what could have otherwise been a dull (albeit well-written) drama-thriller. In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane actually benefits from Trachtenberg’s inexperience – who, backed by the confidence (and money) of producer J.J. Abrams, turns wide-eyed enthusiasm into a polished mix of gripping mystery, impactful drama, lush cinematography, and clever scenes of levity.
In that respect, 10 Cloverfield Lane manages to replicate the playful but frightening tone that made Cloverfield both a grounded character story and a well-realized piece of science-fiction. Given that much of Trachtenberg’s success comes from smart setup and satisfying payoffs, in both the film’s central mystery and clever twists along the way, viewers should avoid spoilers ahead of time. Nevertheless, the strength of 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t in answers to its mysteries – the film is most satisfying and most affecting when subverting (and toying with) viewer expectations. For that reason, audience members who have previously been frustrated by a J.J. Abrams “mystery box” TV show or movie will find the producer isn’t concerned with concrete answers here either; instead, Abrams and Trachtenberg place their characters in a unique situation – and follow those characters through to a satisfying conclusion.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman are at the center of that interplay – responsible for making loaded banter between two people in a kitchen just as absorbing as discovering what (if anything) is happening outside of the fallout shelter. Supported by sharp script work, Winstead’s Michelle is a relatable entry point for the audience – one that is made even more compelling by Trachtenberg’s firm control over the unfolding of 10 Cloverfield Lane and its mysteries. Michelle isn’t afforded award-contender moments to pontificate but Winstead succeeds where Trachtenberg needs her most: a likable stand-in for the viewer, ensuring Michelle’s fear, confusion, and relief in any given scene transfer onto 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s audience.
Similarly, Goodman tackles a tough challenge – presenting Howard as a believable human being that falls somewhere between an eccentric but well-intentioned hero and full-on unhinged psychopath (depending on scene context). The actor moves with ease along that spectrum and Trachtenberg carefully juxtaposes Goodman’s imposing physicality (especially given the small underground space) with quiet glimpses of tenderness – while exploiting the star’s affable personality to punctuate fleeting glimpses at an underlying mean streak. Winstead makes for a witty protagonist but it is Goodman that ensures 10 Cloverfield Lane will keep its audience guessing.
10 Cloverfield Lane is also playing in IMAX theaters but only the most dedicated viewers will likely find a premium ticket worthy of the added cost. Given that so much of the film takes place underground, in a confined space, Trachtenberg rarely gets an opportunity to take full advantage of IMAX format benefits. That said, crisper sound and a bigger picture will contribute to a more immersive viewing – if for no other reason than the final act offers welcome contrast to the intimate drama and claustrophobic setting that dominate the first two-thirds of the film.
10 Cloverfield Lane could be considered a distant-relative of its predecessor but the two are not directly linked – at all. For that reason, where viewers can expect certain tonal elements of the original film to resurface in Trachtenberg’s movie, ticket buyers should base their interest on what is shown in the trailer – not what they might hope has been left out. Trachtenberg doesn’t drive toward an earth-shattering reveal or over-arching moral, so moviegoers who want answers to every question will be left to fill in more than a few blanks (not to be mistaken as plot holes) on their own. Still, on its own terms, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a top-notch movie experience – with solid execution from a passionate freshman filmmaker. Trachtenberg has produced a taut, humorous, and often terrifying debut – one that will, without a doubt, have plenty of fans crying for another entry (be it sequel or spiritual successor) in the Cloverfield series.
10 Cloverfield Lane runs 105 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language. Now playing in regular and IMAX theaters.
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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our 10 Cloverfield Lane episode of the Total Geekall podcast.