In today’s high-speed broadband world, movie studios are keener than ever to start the hype machine and get the word out about their projects as soon as possible. It has become standard practice to release trailers more than a year before the movie hits cinemas, there’s also the growing trend of teasers for the trailer, but that’s an argument for another day. So, imagine our surprise earlier this year when a trailer dropped for a movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane from super producer J.J Abrams.
At first, everybody thought that Abrams had somehow managed to produce a sequel to Cloverfield under the radar, but with no found footage style or any visible signs of a rampaging alien monster, the connection was far from obvious. The script started life as The Cellar from writers Josh Campbell & Matthew Stucken, when Abrams’ Bad Robot production company got hold of it Whiplash scribe Damien Chazelle was brought in to give the draft a fresh lick of paint. Less than three months after we knew it was a thing, 10 Cloverfield Lane arrived on the big screen under a shroud of secrecy, and that’s how it should stay until you make the decision to see the finished product. Fear not, you’ll find no spoilers in this review and only details revealed in the trailer will be mentioned.
After surviving a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up to find herself shackled and seemingly held prisoner in an underground bunker. Her apparent captor, Howard (John Goodman), explains to her that the country is under attack, and it’s not safe to venture outside, I won’t go into specifics, but Michelle soon discovers that Howard appears to be telling the truth. Once she’s back on her feet she Michelle meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), another survivor who took refuge in Howard’s shelter who also begins to grow mistrustful of their saviour’s state of mind. The line between captor and saviour becomes blurred as we start to understand the type of man Howard is, and the tension between the unlikely housemates slowly begins to build.
Dan Trachtenberg makes an impressive directorial debut and skilfully layers the unease one heaped spoon at a time. One location movies are nothing new, but Trachtenberg and cinematographer Jeff Cutter find news ways to ramp up the claustrophobic fear. For all the intrigue and suspense the whole movie hinges on the performances of the three leads. Obviously, John Goodman is his usual captivating self, bringing genuine heart to Howard; he’s a flawed and broken man with rough edges and Goodman plays it perfectly. However, it’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead that emerges as the real star of the movie.
Michelle’s circumstances might paint her as a the archetypal victim, when we first meet her she is fleeing from a toxic relationship (listen out for the vocal A-lister cameo), but Winstead infuses her with a resilient disposition despite her worsening situation. At times, the small scale story feels out of place on the big screen, when lulls occur something seismic happens to jolt the narrative back on track.
J.J. Abrams describes 10 Cloverfield Lane as a ‘blood relative’ opposed to a full on sequel, while that might conjure flashbacks of what Ridley Scott said about Prometheus, Abrams’ statement is the most accurate way to label the movie. Abrams has teased that there could be more Cloverfield ‘blood relatives’ in the future, taking the anthology approach to a franchise is a bold move and one that feels oddly refreshing.
★★★★ Aided by some shrewd direction and pitch-perfect performances from Winstead and Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense mystery box thriller that Alfred Hitchcock would have adored.
10 Cloverfield Lane is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.