10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
“Monsters come in many forms”
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Synopsis: After a car crash, a woman is held in a shelter with two men who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.
While stating that 10 Cloverfield Lane is not part of the same universe as Matt Reeves’ 2008 monster movie Cloverfield, producer J. J. Abrams has described it as a blood relative. Quite what he means by this isn’t really clear. Why make the film part of a franchise if it has no direct link to the first movie in the series? Could it possibly be a device to boost the takings of a small, largely single-set movie with no A-list stars in the cast which would otherwise struggle to be noticed, let alone earn four times as much as it cost to make? Perish the thought, you cynics…
To be fair, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a decent enough movie in its own right – although its’ disappointing final act belongs in an altogether different movie (one like Cloverfield, in fact…). The plot sees Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, A.C.O.D.) crashing her car one night after walking out on her boyfriend, and awakening to find herself chained to a pipe in the cell of an underground bunker. Her captor is Howard (John Goodman – The Big Lebowski, The Artist), a burly, vaguely menacing middle-aged man who informs her that the world has undergone some devastating trauma that has poisoned the air above them. It could be years, he warns her, before it will be safe enough for them to resurface. Fortunately, Howard’s bunker holds plentiful supplies of canned food, board games and DVDs. There’s also a sizeable vat of perchloric acid lying somewhere around the place which will eventually play a major part in the story that is about to unfold.
Michelle’s misgivings about Howard are alleviated somewhat when he informs her that they’re not alone down there. The third resident of the bunker is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), Howard’s former handyman who helped Howard to construct the bunker and therefore knew exactly where to head when the weird stuff started happening upstairs. It seems Howard wasn’t too keen to have company, though, because Emmett received a broken arm when forcing his way inside. The atmosphere is a little strained to start with, but Michelle at least feels a whole lot happier knowing that she’s not alone down there with Howard. And, over time, the tension thaws enough for the three to begin resembling a weird little family that prepares dinner together and plays board games for entertainment. But one day Michelle has to shuffle through a narrow air vent to reset the air filtration unit situated in a room near the surface and finds a padlocked window to the outside world on which the word help has been scrawled in blood from the inside…
Put two people in a confined space and the chances are that any filmmaker will struggle to create much tension. Add a third, and you have all you need to create a simmering atmosphere that crackles with the stuff, and an oppressive breeding ground for nervous mistrust, brooding resentment and covert alliances. Place them underground, beneath the harsh glare of artificial light in a windowless bunker and the sense of isolation and entrapment is overpowering. John Goodman is a big hulking bear of a man whose folksy, genial nature can be replaced with bone-chilling menace in the time it takes to draw a breath, and this unnerving duality constantly unsettles both Michelle and the audience as we struggle to determine whether Howard is a delusional threat or eccentric saviour. It would be easy for a film to overplay its hand in such a contrived situation, but 10 Cloverfield Lane shows admirable restraint, creating an undulating rhythm that incrementally ramps up the tension and foreboding as it swings us back and forth from guarded acceptance to watchful apprehension. Michelle’s sense of uncertain frustration is palpable, and we share her near-overpowering compulsion to breach the air lock that separates the three of them from the world outside, even if doing so might kill them all.
Unfortunately, 10 Cloverfield Lane’s final fifteen minutes see the incisive psychological drama give way to an open-ended conclusion that paves the way to an inevitable sequel which will presumably tie in more closely with the second story in the anthology than the second does with the first. Despite Abrams’ denials, the possibility that Manhattan is crumbling beneath the feet of a rampaging monster at the same time that Michelle is waking up in that windowless cell is impossible to disregard. Either way, any sequel to this superior thriller is sure to be hotly anticipated.
(Reviewed 26th March 2016)