Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

From out of nowhere comes the creepy sci-fi spin-off 10 Cloverfield Lane

When is a franchise not a franchise?

Eight years after the release of Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams’ found footage monster movie Cloverfield, a trailer for spin-off 10 Cloverfield Lane dropped, seemingly out of nowhere. Internet speculation abounded. Where had it come from? Would it be another monster movie? And how was this John Goodman thriller connected to the Godzilla-esque original? Given the popularity of Cloverfield, perhaps the biggest question on people’s minds was “Is this a cheap cash-in, or something more?” Directed by the debuting Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane may never quite shake the feeling of being a tiny indie project with only the loosest connection to the original monster movie, but it’s minuscule budget and unpredictable narrative make its overall quality all the more surprising.

10 Cloverfield Lane 1

After a nasty car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in the dingy basement of Howard (John Goodman), an intense conspiracy nut who tells her a nuclear attack has wiped out the rest of humanity. Forced to share a claustrophobic bunker, tensions rise as Michelle and the bunker’s third inhabitant, laidback Emmett (John Gallagher Jnr.), begin to question Howard and the fate of the world above them.

Those expecting the fast-paced sci-fi thrills of Cloverfield will probably be disappointed by Trachtenberg’s film. Working wonders with a $15 million budget (most of which presumably went on the final twenty minutes), 10 Cloverfield Lane is a slow burning, dialogue-led thriller that takes place almost entirely in one oppressive room. Rather than expensive CGI and pyrotechnics, the only explosions are supplied by the razor sharp script and a trio of terrific performances.

10 Cloverfield Lane 2

Dominating the film is John Goodman. Goodman has played loud characters (Walter in The Big Lebowski), and disturbed characters (Mad Man Mundt in Barton Fink), but he’s never been quite as sinister as he is playing the paranoid Howard. Prone to snap at the slightest conflict, he rules over his bunker and puts the fear of God in his, for lack of a better word, captives. While his performance is a little over-the-top, Goodman carries even the broadest moments with such conviction and genuine menace, he almost steals the entire show.

However, he faces stiff competition from the other two leads. After a mainstream breakthrough as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been slowly making a name for herself with blistering leading roles in diverse indie fare like Smashed and Faults. 10 Cloverfield Lane should be the film that catapults her into the A-list; she’s brilliant as the resourceful heroine who constantly looks for ways out of her predicament. Kicking ass and refusing to be a victim, Winstead is the strong, steely-jawed heart of the film.

Rounding out the cast is another indie veteran, John Gallagher Jnr. (so great as the killer in another creepy 2016 film, Hush). Gallagher Jnr. doesn’t get as much screen time or character development as his co-stars, but he makes a huge impression whenever he appears, as effortlessly charming as his role in the stunning Short Term 12.

10 Cloverfield Lane 3

Though most of the film consists of nerve-wracking dialogue with flashes of gruesome violence, 10 Cloverfield Lane goes all out with its ending, changing genre and revealing its loose connection to the original film. Sadly, it doesn’t work, clearly tacked on to the original script to fit with audience expectations. After the sterling work Trachtenberg and his cast have done to make such an effectively subtle thriller, ending the film with CG-heavy explosions and stuntwork is a disappointingly unsubtle conclusion.

Appearing out of nowhere, 10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the most enjoyable thrillers of the year; a tense, talky blockbuster with something to offer multiplex crowds and arthouse fans alike. Bolstered by three excellent central performances (especially John Goodman on frighteningly good form), Trachtenberg’s directorial debut offers great dialogue, subtle twists, and genuinely disturbing horror. It’s just a shame the ending clumsily smashes its way onto the screen and undoes so much of the claustrophobia the rest of the film built up so well.

Grade: B

 

By Harry J. Ford

 

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