10 Cloverfield Lane is a remarkable achievement before you even take your seat in the cinema.
A movie with a title calling back to 2008’s sleeper hit ‘Cloverfield‘ (which grossed $170 million off a $25 million budget), produced by J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and two Star Trek films) co-written by Damien Chazelle (writer-director of 2014’s ‘Whiplash’), and starring Bradley Cooper (ok it’s only his voice for like 20 seconds) and John Goodman, the film was nary a blip on the radar of even the most passionate film goers.
That was until Dan Trachtenberg (who makes his feature film directorial debut here) released what I consider the best trailer in the past decade (in terms of doing what a trailer should do), only to save the best until last: the movie was a mere two months from release.
In a world where not even the length of Kim Kardashian’s little toe on her left foot can remain a secret for too long, that 10 Cloverfield Lane could remain so secret for so long is truly a modern day marvel.
What this secrecy allowed for was the remarkable realisation that, as the lights dim and the popcorn starts to rustle around the cinema… you have no idea what the hell you’re about to watch.
To be honest, this is the best way to watch 10 Cloverfield Lane. As the title suggests I won’t be going into spoilers, but this film truly embodies the phrase ‘the less you know the better’.
So, the question many a diehard movie fan will be asking: is it good?
The question many a diehard Cloverfield fan will be asking: is it a sequel?
J.J. Abrams has described it as a ‘blood relative’, but even that’s a stretch. From a story point of view, it’s completely removed. After a car accident, ‘Michelle’ (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes to find herself held in a bunker with ‘Howard’ (John Goodman) and ‘Emmett’, who claim the outside world has been left uninhabitable by a chemical attack.
From a pure filmmaking point of view, gone is the motion-sickness-inducing shaky-cam of Cloverfield, and there’s a refreshing absence of characters who seem to make the worst possible decision out of the options provided (although in a year where Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to plow on unfazed, perhaps Cloverfield was overestimating the intelligence of its American leads).
Fittingly released just after International Women’s Day, the film’s leading lady, ‘Michelle’ (played by a brilliant Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is the antithesis of the ‘scream queen’ so often portrayed in horror films and, in fact, by Winstead herself in many of her previous roles.
Her ability to remain calm and calculative (or as much as you can be when locked in a bunker with crazy John Goodman) is all the more commendable when it’s considered who she’s in there with.
Indeed, John Goodman is truly unnerving in one of the best performances of his career. To reveal his true intentions and nature would be to spoil a large part of what makes this movie so thrilling, suffice it to say Goodman’s ‘Howard’ is, like the film itself, difficult to piece together, and has the threat of danger lurking around every corner.
It’s watching Winstead and Goodman lose themselves in their roles and interactions that lifts 10 Cloverfield Lane from mediocre to worth watching. John Gallagher Jr.’s ‘Emmett’ has his moments, but ultimately it’s Michelle and Howard who will stay with audiences after they’ve left the cinema.
Still, the film isn’t perfect, and its third act ventures into more formulaic territory, but thankfully it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and leaves the character drama of acts one and two to be the film’s shining centrepiece, where the mystery of what lies outside the door permeates every line of dialogue and every stare at the skylight above.
All in all, it’s a superbly written, superbly acted, and superbly directed film, one that wisely opts for more thriller over horror and, although it staggers towards the end, provides for gripping viewing and the fulfilment of its tagline: Monsters come in many forms.
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr. and Bradley Cooper (sort of)
10 Cloverfield Lane opens in Australia (rated M) on March 10th and America (rated PG-13) on March 11th