While the trailers for Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman felt like one massive spoiler (“So, Doomsday shows up then?”), the marketing team for Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane have done the opposite, showing virtually nothing of the film and teasing us with comments like, it’s a “blood relative” to JJ Abrams’s 2008 handheld horror hit, Cloverfield. There’s a reason for this: The less you know, the more you’ll get out of it.
The film opens with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) packing her bags and making a run for it. Whilst driving, arguing on the phone with her now ex-boyfriend, she crashes the car and knocks herself out. Waking, Michelle finds herself in an underground bunker, home of Howard (John Goodman – Monsters Inc., The Big Lebowski – all-round acting legend), a conspiracy theorist who is convinced there has been a chemical, even nuclear attack on America, and is keeping her safe. Michelle realises that Howard is not all he seems, questioning what his real motives might be.
10 Cloverfield Lane gets a lot of things right. First off, the acting. Unlike most female leads in a horror or suspense thriller, Michelle has brains, doing everything you or I would do in this situation. She asks all the right questions, looking for new and inventive ways to escape. You care about Michelle rather than feeling like you’re forced to, because she takes up ninety percent of the screen time.
The real star of the show here is John Goodman, who flexes his acting chops in a complex, but subtle performance. When Goodman’s Howard arrives, you don’t trust him. He waits before he speaks, mulling over what he is about to say. He stares at you rather than looks at you, like he is constantly trying to work you out. Also, he has a violent, volatile temper. Virtually all of the film’s tension comes courtesy of Goodman; you struggle to predict what he will do next.
John Gallagher Jr. does a decent enough job as Michelle’s fellow prisoner Emmett, but you get the feeling he’s around to provide the comedy; he drops a well-timed one liner here-and-there, but that’s about it.
There are moments of real, shuffle round in your seat tension in Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle’s script; two highlights being a dinner scene, where Winstead tries to steal Howard’s keys off him, and a harmless guessing game that becomes increasingly uncomfortable. The trouble is, while I didn’t know what to expect from 10 Cloverfield Lane, at the very least, I was expecting something claustrophobic, nail-biting throughout, and while the film has some well-crafted set pieces, there aren’t many. There were times when I was wishing Goodman would come back onscreen, so things would start getting interesting again.
Just as Speed went downhill once Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock got off the bus, or Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx got out the taxi in Collateral, the minute Winstead escapes the bunker (that’s not a gigantic, Batman v Superman spoiler, folks), things take a drastic turn for the worse. 10 Cloverfield Lane will keep you guessing just what the hell is going on, you’ll be coming up with all sorts of crackpot, inventive theories. When you finally find out, it’s hard not to feel the tiniest bit disappointed.
You have to praise 10 Cloverfield Lane for being ninety-odd minutes set in virtually one location and coming up with some smart, squirm-inducing scares. The characters aren’t your usual horror clichés either, both Goodman and Winstead having plenty to do.
With sequels and reboots being Hollywood’s modus operandi at the moment, it’s great to see a sequel that tries to do something different, to bend and sometimes break the rules set up by the first film (admittedly, the script started off as a stand-alone horror before JJ Abrams got wind of it). While 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t entirely succeed, it’s enjoyable enough, and John Goodman turns the film up several notches whenever he shows up. It’s just a crying shame that Trachtenberg’s debut wasn’t the minute-after-minute, pulse pounding thrill ride I hoped for.
3 out of 5