I liked 2008s Cloverfield well enough. It had a very cool giant monster, and it focused on the human side of a giant monster attack, returning to what made the original Godzilla such a powerful and enduring classic, with 9/11 imagery subbing in for Godzilla‘s nuclear devastation. While I love that it was focused on the characters, I didn’t particularly love the characters as people. At the time (note that I’ve only seen the film the once, in the theatre on release) I found them all a little insufferable. They struck me as vapid one-percenters with drool-worthy apartments overlooking Central Park, completely self-absorbed in the inconsequential dramas of their social lives. Maybe that’s unfair, and maybe I should watch it again. And maybe that was the point: when it all comes crashing down, your priorities will realign and what you do after is what will really matter. I liked it well enough, as I said. Well enough to hit the theatre to see what J.J. Abrams called Cloverfield‘s, “blood relative,” 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets in a terrible car accident and wakes to find herself chained up in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman), who claims to have rescued her from her wreck, and another man, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Howard also claims that there’s been some kind of apocalyptic attack, and in order to survive, no one can leave the bunker. Is Howard telling the truth, or is this all just a sinister kidnapping plot?
What a fantastic surprise this film was. I had assumed that there would be twists given how the move was marketed- and there are – but my base assumption that the film would be predicated upon those twists was wrong. This is no M. Night Shyamalan film that seeks only to play tricks with the audience; the twists are here to further develop the drama and enhance the character interaction. If there’s anything I was reminded of while watching this film, it wasn’t the Cloverfield or an M. Night atrocity, but an excellent, tightly wound and well written episode of the original 1959 The Twilight Zone. With such a small cast, the limited locations and confined space, this could very well have been put on as a play, and so, it requires a lot of the actors. Everyone here rises to the occasion, especially the incredible John Goodman – he is funny, strange, kind, sad, and terrifying in this film, and it’s worth seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane just for his performance. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a great lead – she’s believable and likable, and it’s never less than compelling watching her size up her bunker-mates, assess the situation, and fight to survive – and John Gallagher Jr.’s kind, simple hick with surprising depth is excellent.
I loved 10 Cloverfield Lane. It was refreshing to see a science fiction horror film so focused on characters and quality writing. See this for the drama of three strangers trapped in a small bunker together, bouncing off each other, rising and falling, as the mystery unfolds, rather than the twists or any of the grand destruction of Cloverfield. Tense, surprising, and fantastically well made, 10 Cloverfield Lane is just a great, satisfying time at the theatre.