Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr., Bradley Cooper
4.5 STARS (out of 5)
2016 seems to be host to a number of movies this year with an awful lot hanging overhead. Batman V Superman has been met with lukewarm to negative reception. People everywhere await Paul Feig’s take on Ghostbusters this summer with baited breath. 10 Cloverfield Lane – which was only revealed a few months ago – carries the burden of supposedly adding to the shaky-cam love-it-or-hate-it colossal monster madness that was 2008’s Cloverfield. This was a movie which also had JJ Abrams working behind the scenes, and was notorious both for its ambiguity as well as for its alternative take on the monster movie. Anyone wanting to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, therefore, will likely have been eager to see whether or not any clarity or answers could be given to what was going on in 2007’s disaster piece. I can safely say that, having seen Trachtenburg’s companion piece to what we might as well now call a franchise, that it offers little in the way of clarity – but a whole lot in terms of genuine thrills, scares and old-fashioned movie entertainment.
Having been run off the road in the dead of night, Michelle (Winstead) wakes up to find herself chained up in the basement of survivalist Howard (Goodman), who states that he rescued her, and that due to an attack outside the atmosphere is no longer breathable. In terms of plot, this is just about as much as you need to know going in – as Michelle finds herself and her two new roommates having to live together in spite of whatever it may be that’s happening on the outside. Michelle finds herself skeptical of Howard’s intentions, as he proves himself to have a hair-trigger-temper and a bizarrely subdued manner – leaving her, and us, to decide whether or not Howard is simply a maniacal kidnapper of the worst possible kind, or if there genuinely is something awful going on outside. This is the central thread for the movie – it’s a closed-in mystery that largely features three characters, some awkward chit-chat, and some good old claustrophobia liberally sprinkled throughout.
Cloverfield Lane is something relatively rare in today’s cinematic climate, in that it runs an extremely small cast in an extremely small space and is dependent entirely upon visual and sound direction, coupled with acting talent that sells a scenario that is both terrifying and confusing. John Goodman shines as a dour but seemingly kind man who shows moments of terrifying aggression, coupled with a twisted attitude to social interaction and how his bunker should be run. While we are never too sure whether or not Howard is a genuine psychopath until late on into the movie, Goodman commands the limited stage with dominative and unpredictable menace, the brooding kind that bubbles away beneath the surface, ready to snap at any given moment, and for any strange little thing – Howard, therefore, makes a perfect antagonist in the sense that he not only holds all the cards in that he’s keeping Michelle and Emmett away from the outside world – but also in that he believes what he is doing is for the greater good. At least, that’s how he portrays it.
The movie moves at a pace that allows the characters to get used to each other and grow into their new lives while Michelle slowly discovers elements about Howard’s bunker that lead her to believe she’s solved the mystery behind whether or not her saviour/captor is telling the truth about keeping her from harm. The script and direction allow for low-key, natural tension to be built up so subtly and so eerily calmly that there are more than a handful of moments in this movie that are genuinely scary – and while there are moments of gore, they’re not gratuitous – this is a picture that builds more and more horror based upon the growing mystery of the bunker and the world outside, and Howard’s unpredictable nature. It’s very old-school cinema in that it doesn’t rely upon body horror or elaborate concepts to terrify. It’s very much a shoebox play that would work equally as well on stage. In terms of direction, and in terms of acting – Winstead is a perfect everyman that does everything anyone else would do in her situation, while Gallagher Jr. is earnest and equally terrified of Goodman’s character – this is fantastic cinema, and some of the scariest I’ve seen in years. While a would-be horror movie such as The Forest would depend upon plot cliches and jump scares to get people twitching, Cloverfield Lane does so more organically, drawing to light just how twisted human interaction and our own belief systems and routines can be. It shows us just how terrifying our fellow human beings are.
10 Cloverfield Lane - Official Trailer (Paramount Pictures)
The final twenty minutes may divide people – and it is impossible for me to comment on them without spoiling the plot – yet, it throws out an answer to our questions that we may not have been expecting. Is Howard a psychopath? Or is he really trying to protect Michelle and Emmett? I was impressed by the answer, and while I felt the ending hurried the tone and didn’t particularly work as the most satisfying of conclusions to the story, I still managed to find myself genuinely intrigued, entertained, and even scared. A horror movie that is able to genuinely frighten without resulting to jump scares and gore is becoming a rarer commodity these days – and for that, credit must be due to Cloverfield Lane for restoring a little bit of my faith in this type of cinema. A genuinely riveting and unnerving movie that will keep you guessing, with a final twenty minutes that some – hopefully most – will love.