It’s hard to keep a secret these days. Somehow, 10 Cloverfield Lane, the follow-up to the J.J. Abrams-produced science fiction blockbuster Cloverfield, stayed relatively dormant and well off the radars of film fans until a couple of months ago. In today’s anticipation-heavy movie industry, where films are planned out and detailed years in advance, it would seem a difficult task to maintain the secrecy of a film as big as this one. The lack of information and equally vague trailer was an interesting move for this mysterious offering, a move that after watching the film proves to have been a successful and calculated one. While Cloverfield utilized the first-person perspective to give the film a frantic, for some stomach-turning, experience, 10 Cloverfield Lane relies on more traditional methods of building a tension-filled mystery about two people waiting out the end of the world in a bunker dictated by a crazed doomsday survivalist.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is frustrated with her relationship and in the process of leaving the city. While driving through the countryside and listening to her boyfriend apologize, her car is violently hit and thrown off the road. Michelle wakes up in a small room with a locked door, and she is chained to the wall. Howard (John Goodman) is the person who rescued her; not only from the car crash but the world disaster that he claims has poisoned the air. Howard brought Michelle to his underground disaster bunker with another survivor named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), and he controls their surroundings menacingly.
For a film that runs 103 minutes long, it sure does make the most out of a simple premise. Here, the story is basically “woman gets trapped then woman must escape.” But director Dan Trachtenberg utilizes much of the waiting game to establish some clever moments of tension while slowly closing in the narrative walls to make the claustrophobic atmosphere even more unnerving. It works exceptionally well in the beginning, especially when the narrative and conventions play with the expectations of the audience, like in an early scene around the dinner table where the viewer is coaxed into guessing how everything will play out. While it does go on a bit too long in the end, the successful moments of tension and the threatening cat-and-mouse aspects help hold attention throughout.
The unnerving aspects can be attributed to the meticulous pacing in the script, however, its successful execution should be largely credited to the capable abilities of John Goodman, who is menacing, intimidating, cracked, and any other word one would use to describe the quality of fear evoked by his character. Whether with an offhanded smirk, the emphasis of how he expresses certain sentences, or with purposeful and subtle mannerisms and gestures, Mr. Goodman nails every scene. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also good, portraying a resilient and tough young woman, she stands toe-to-toe with Mr. Goodman in both the quiet scenes and the violent ones.
Maintaining secrecy during production ultimately helped preserve the mystery found in 10 Cloverfield Lane. There is nothing overly exceptional going on here, just simple techniques accommodating a simple story with satisfying results. While it may have taken a little too much time moving into its final act, the payoff is worth the wait. For those looking for a big monster movie with action and explosions, you won’t find much of that here. For those looking for a calculated thriller with great performances, prepare to be entertained.
Movie Score: 4/5