Dan Trachtenberg sits in the directing chair for 10 Cloverfield Lane (10CL), he’s a bright young talent whose short films have swiftly projected him into the bright lights of Hollywood. In fact once you’ve finished reading this review make sure you watch Portal: No Escape – it’s a 6 minute short that is worthy of your time.
10CL has a small and tight-knit cast focusing mainly around three characters – Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, John Gallagher Jr. as Emmitt and John Goodman as Howard Stambler. The movie kicks off with Michelle fleeing from all she knows to escape an engagement to fiancé Ben (see if you recognise his voice when you watch the movie). While fleeing she’s unexpectedly run off the road in a scene which, if the cinema plays at volume 11, will scare the crap out of you – this is something you need to get used to as it’s the first of many.
On waking up, she’s found chained to a wall, battered and bruised with no recollection as to how she arrived in her predicament. It doesn’t take long before a very creepy John Goodman makes an appearance claiming the end of the world has come and the bunker is all that is protecting them from certain death. Both Winstead and the audience are left wondering whether this guy is a dangerous liar or if he’s telling the truth. It’s the genius of the writing and the portrayal by Goodman that keeps you guessing to almost the very end.
John Gallagher Jr. (who has also found himself in the bunker) takes on the light relief as lovable character Emmitt. His presence continues to sow the seeds of doubt as to what could be going on in the real world 40 feet above.
J.J. Abrams has described 10 Cloverfield Lane as a ‘blood relative’ to the original Cloverfield and when you see the film all will become vaguely clear – I wasn’t sold on the tenuous link with the original film particularly as that original was codenamed ‘Cloverfield’ rather than it coming from a specific place.
The film was adapted from a script titled ‘The Cellar’, cleverly crafted by Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken (with help from Whiplash Writer / Director Damien Chazelle) to fit the creepy atmosphere of Cloverfield and it does all fit together very cleverly. Keep your eyes peeled on the various items around the bunker, many of the which will be used at a later moment in the film.
Winstead is fantastic in the role as Michelle taking the audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotion throughout. She continues to pick roles which stretch her as an actress and this performance does that in spades.
It’s Goodman however who is the real star here. Barely five minutes go by where you don’t change your opinion about him. Is he good, is he bad, is he funny, is he nuts, do I like him, do I hate him!? He uses his vast array of acting experience to keep the audience guessing from the moment he arrives on-screen. There’s a very handy juke-box in the bunker which is perfect for the light relief and very handy for Howard as ‘problem solving puts him in a musical mood’ and the moment he watched Pretty in Pink. Classic!
Dan Trachtenberg is probably a name new to you but definitely one you’re going to be hearing a lot more from. He’s excelled online and I’m pretty sure will have a hit on his hands when this film releases across the world. There are many similarities to his short-film ‘Portal’ in 10CL but it’s the use of music and sound which Trachtenberg utilises so perfectly. The first 10 minutes barely has any dialogue, and is filled with portentous sound effects and music, building tension constantly. He continues this throughout, constantly using music to change the direction of the story.
The only issue I had with this film was how the writers decided to portray Winstead’s character as emotionally weak – running constantly from things that scare her harking back to the opening of the film where she runs from her fiancé. This is amplified with a scene in which her character Michelle speaks with John Gallagher Jr.’s Emmitt about how they have both run from things in their lives rather than facing them head-on. For the rest of the film she’s seen completely confident, a problem solver who you wouldn’t mess with – a stark contrast to how she is portrayed in those other scenes.
But that’s a minor point. It’s hard to say too much more about 10CL without giving anything away so I’ll stop there. This truly is a magnificent film which will have you on the edge of your seat from the title sequence to the credits roll.
If there’s a seatbelt in your cinema seat, I suggest using it as you’ll need something to stop you from banging your head on the ceiling during all the scary moments which you know are coming – it’s just a matter of when!