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Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

March 31, 2016

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

10 Cloverfield Lane PosterThe title of 10 Cloverfield Lane is the first bit of deception that this crafty and often surprisingly inventive thriller has to offer.  It leads us to believe that the film will be a direct sequel to Cloverfield.

While it does share a few strands of DNA with that 2008 found footage monster movie, and both are produced by J.J. Abrams who is again working with his mystery box in full effect, 10 Cloverfield Lane is very much its own beast, and all the better for it.

Because for at least the first two thirds of the film, 10 Cloverfield Lane does an excellent job of upending expectations, delivering a white knuckle escape thriller that unfolds inside a doomsday bunker.  The last act lets it down a bit, becoming more generic in its attempts to please genre fans.  But this doesn’t take away from the fact that much of the film works extremely well.

At the beginning of the film, a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens after a car crash, and finds herself trapped in a bare room, handcuffed to the wall.  She soon discovers that she is trapped in a bunker that belongs to an insane conspiracy theorist, Howard (John Goodman), buried under his farm property in Louisiana.  Howard is holding her captive along with his farmhand Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), and he claims that they are being kept in the bunker for their own safety, warning them that some sort of devastating catastrophe has struck, and the air outside has become toxic.

At this point, 10 Cloverfield Lane becomes a fascinating psychological study that allows for tense cat and mouse games to unfold between its characters.  The film’s central moral dilemma is one that continues to linger, asking whether Michelle should stay trapped and face a potentially deadly psycho, or escape imprisonment and deal with whatever unknown dangers may lurk in the outside world.  For much of the running time, we are left constantly trying to figure out if Howard’s paranoia is even grounded in any sort of reality, and this is perhaps the biggest stroke of genius that the film has to offer.

John Goodman plays this character like a male counterpart to Kathy Bates in Misery, and the veteran actor delivers one of his finest performances.  It’s a gripping and quietly terrifying turn that is on par with his work in Barton Fink, casting a threatening presence over the story that is felt throughout the entire film.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an excellent job of carrying the film, putting a headstrong twist on her character, who has both the determination and stamina to stand up for herself.  John Gallagher Jr. does solid work rounding out the small cast, and there is an uneasy sense of chemistry between the central trio that elevates the material even further.

The ending feels kind of needless after such a strong buildup, and the film actually would have been stronger and more fascinating as a whole if they had left the finale more ambiguous.  But the first two acts show great restraint and ability to build tension on the part of director Dan Trachtenberg, twisting the knife to almost unbearable levels and delivering several jump moments.  For the most part, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an incredibly affective thriller, a compelling and even haunting chamber piece that is almost Hitchcockian in its assembly and precision to generate genuine suspense.

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