By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
In 2008, the intense, hand-held footage film Cloverfield made quite an impact on movie audiences. This was in part due to a well executed promotional campaign which had an air of mystery and excitement. While I do like the film, I feel that the promotional hype overshadowed the true quality of the film. I feel that Cloverfield is solidly directed and very well acted, but didn’t make a strong enough case in favor of hand-held footage films. At its heart is a kaiju (monster) flick with frightening imagery and empathetic characters. However, the shaky camera work used to give the illusion of watching personal camcorder footage really frustrated me. Still, it works well enough for me to be caught up in the peril and intense violence of the story.
So when I first heard that a new movie titled 10 Cloverfield Lane would open this year, and would not be of the hand-held variety, I breathed not only a sigh of relief, but also felt pangs of excitement for this film. The promotional work for this film was somewhat mysterious, but seemed more subdued than that of the first film. Producer J.J. Abrams did express that the film would not be a direct sequel to Cloverfield, but rather a “distant relative”. I found this news rather confusing and hoped that the movie would clarify this.
Well, now that I have seen the film, I can’t say that this vague description of the movie gets completely clarified. However, I did have a rather thrilling and suspenseful movie experience that I feel is superior to the other movie with the word Cloverfield as its title. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stueken, and Damien Chazelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane may opening in March, but it is feeling like the summer has arrived early at the cinema.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, a distressed young woman running away from a relationship in jeopardy. Michelle’s journey comes to a literal screeching halt when a car accident sends her car off the road and leaves her unconscious. She awakens chained to a bed in an unfamiliar, underground shelter. Shortly after awakening Michelle meets her captor Howard (John Goodman) who claims that he rescued her and a man named Emmett (John Gallagher) from dangers outside of the shelter. Suspicious of Howard’s intentions, Michelle cautiously watches him and begins to question the veracity of his claims.
I wish to keep this film as spoiler-free as possible, so I will not reveal any surprises or secrets of the film. I also pretty much cannot reveal how this film ties in to Cloverfield. Regardless of these ambiguities, people should trust me when I say that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie not to miss! Not only is this movie shot very differently for the previous movie, it has a whole different tone, pace, and feel.
This film has a slower pace and works more like a suspenseful, mystery thriller. There are monsters in this movie, but not necessarily what people are expecting. I have to say that Dan Trachtenberg, his writers, and crew do an outstanding job of building suspense and fear within their audience members and then shocking and surprising them at all of the right moments. There were times that I sat glued to the screen, at the edge of my seat and jumping in fright often during the movie. If a camera had captured my reactions during the screening, I can honestly say that I sat mostly wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
This movie also outshines Cloverfield because of its deliberate pacing, more meticulous cinematography (Jeff Cutter), the great writing and superb performances of the cast. The main trio in the film all deliver excellent work. John Goodman, an actor whose work I have admired for many years, is absolutely perfect as the mysterious, suspicious, and slightly unhinged host. The lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead not only looks like the girl-next-door, but she is a genuinely talented actress. John Gallagher first caught my attention with solid acting in the exceptional Short Term 12 and performs sublimely here as well.
Most of the film is aesthetically simple, focusing strictly on the internal conflicts of the characters and the drama that ensues in this intense and unnerving situation. This approach works tremendously well, though I’m sure mysteries of this variety have been done before. Nevertheless, 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers the goods of a great summer mystery thriller and really enriches the Cloverfield series in ways I had not anticipated. I really look forward to seeing what J.J. Abrams and his filmmakers have in store for a follow-up film and if they intend to make this a movie series.