FilmReview

Review: Human Terror, Not Aliens, Reigns in ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’

Sophia Ritchie ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

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John Gallagher Jr., Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

When the trailer to 10 Cloverfield Lane dropped, an out of the blue “sequel”/”spinoff”/”blood relative” to the 2008 horror film Cloverfield, people erupted in delight. How in the world had Hollywood’s “It” filmmaker, J.J. Abrams, snuck a continuation of a celebrated cult release into production away from the public eye? And how did this strange, tense, sepia-toned snippet relate back to a shaky-cam triumph about alien invasion?

After watching, the question remains largely unanswered except in the uniting themes of the films: monsters. And 10 Cloverfield Lane, directed by newcomer Dan Trachtenberg, is just as much mystery-box thriller as it is a monster movie…if severely disconnected from its supposed starting material.

The basic, spoiler free story, follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman who gets into a car accident and awakes to find herself stuck in an underground bunker with conspiracy nut Howard (John Goodman in rare form) and handyman Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.). Howard insists he saved her: from the accident and from the effects of a devastating attack that resulted in some sort of environmental fallout. Michelle isn’t so sure. The actions following, from the very moment Michelle awakens, are an exercise in action and tension.

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John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

In a setting as contained as the bunker, relying almost completely on the performances of three characters, the film reads almost like a play, which is half of why it’s so effective. With some tweaking, 10 Cloverfield Lane could find success on a small stage, and no one would be left the wiser, as long as the actors delivered the same guff as 10 Cloverfield’s cast.

Winstead’s Michelle is a more than capable heroine, who Macgyver’s her way through every situation in a stark contrast from most horror movie characters. Working past a very realistic fear, of her situation and the man in control, she never stands helpless if she can help it. Gallagher Jr. as Emmet brings a simple humor to the piece, a much needed buffer of breathing room between Michelle’s lightning-quick energy and Goodman’s intensity. Speaking of Goodman, much can and should be said of his performance. Undoubtedly the highlight of the film, he plays Howard with a veteran’s finesse, honest, realistic, and terrifying. Vacillating between harmlessly strange and strangely menacing, Howard is a character both impossible and utterly too possible, and Goodman brings him to life.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to elaborate on 10 Cloverfield’s failings without giving away what so many have tried to keep secret: its “cloverfield”-ness. The internet and the film world at large argue back and forth on whether 10 Cloverfield, which originally started as a mystery-box thriller called “The Bunker” and then “Valencia”, was a self-contained thriller that stumbled into a Cloverfield tie in, or if it was the filmmakers plan all along. Without spoilers, it’s almost laughably clear that the first option is more likely. The film is a good one, until its connection to the alien universe of Cloverfield fame, which feels decidedly cheap and shoehorned in.

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John Gallagher Jr. and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

But separating a strange tie in from a good film isn’t hard, especially with a good cast and a solid script (with rewrites done by Oscar nominee Damien Chazelle, of Whiplash fame.) Cloverfield fans may emerge disappointed, but rest assured, will also come away with another solid addition to the monster-genre under their belt.

Overall Grade: B

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