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10 cl lane

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a psychological thriller set in the “Cloverfield” universe, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), John Gallagher Jr. (“The Newsroom”), and John Goodman (“Monsters, Inc.”). The film itself is more of a spiritual successor to “Cloverfield” than a straight-up sequel, which is understandable given that “10 Cloverfield Lane” was adapted from a script for a movie which would’ve been called “The Cellar”.

The plot of “10 Cloverfield Lane” is one which changes various times over the course of the film, because it relies on misdirection in order to keep events down in the bunker interesting. With that in mind, I’m going to give a very brief synopsis for the film, rather than a detailed overview, because it would be better for anyone reading this that hasn’t seen the film to be unaware of certain subplots.

Michelle (Winstead) is driving through rural Louisiana following an argument with her boyfriend (Ben, voiced by Bradley Cooper), when she is involved in an accident. She wakes up to find herself chained to a wall in an unfamiliar room, when Howard (Goodman), a large and authoritative man, opens the door and tells her that everyone outside is dead. That’s the set-up, and it only gets more crazy from there.

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As a film, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is everything that “Cloverfield” wasn’t; quiet, considered, and actually quite funny – it’s an agonisingly tense thriller with more than one unexpected twist.

Still, it’s hard to get “Cloverfield” out of your head when you’re watching this film’s events unfold, because although Michelle initially believes that she’s being held against her will by the powerful and slightly unhinged Howard, the audience knows that she is in fact being saved from the hell that waits outside; in virtue of the title. That doesn’t mean that Howard is any more fun to be around, but it does mean that Michelle is probably better off with him than she would be if she went outside. This doesn’t stop “10 Cloverfield Lane” from being an isolated and tense affair with twists and turns aplenty, but I can’t help but think that as a movie it would be better if it wasn’t tied to the aforementioned found-footage film.

Nonetheless, Dan Trachtenberg does a brilliant job of creating a stressful and threatening atmosphere, making the bunker feel as claustrophobic for the audience as it does for the characters within. Every time that the outside world is mentioned the audience is conscious of the fact that there are bad things out there, which makes Howard the most useful member of the trio in the bunker, but at the same time he is frightening and feels very dangerous.

The writers, Trachtenberg, and of course Goodman himself, do an amazing job of making Howard seem like a nut whilst also giving him some humanity; he’s clearly grieving for the daughter than he believes he has lost, and also has suffered from paranoia in the past – as evidenced by the fact that he built an underground bunker during peace time. He’s a character with a lot of depth, which makes his actions unpredictable and of course makes him all the more unsettling to watch. At several points Howard comes across as a paranoid and aggressive captor, unwilling to allow Michelle and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) to so much as touch, yet at other times he almost feels like a father figure for the pair. He’s a very well disguised and duplicitous character, and he’s the main reason why “10 Cloverfield Lane” works as well as it does.

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Another reason that this film works is its unpredictability. Although it’s clear that at some point Michelle is going to go outside – because otherwise the film would be a little bit pointless and wouldn’t relate to “Cloverfield” at all – there are various junctures at which it feels like she really shouldn’t bother. The audience is initially left wondering how on earth life in this bunker can be possible, because Howard seems like a fruit loop, but later the feeling is quite the opposite, because it’s clear that something is very wrong outside and things are actually going well with Howard and Emmett.

In order to change the perception of events the writers work in three clever twists which are extremely well hidden and timed. It’s pretty hard to say what these twists are without delving into spoiler territory, but I think it’s enough to say that the first one convinces Michelle not to go outside, the second makes her definitely want to go outside, and the third makes her wish that she’d never been born.

The last thing that I want to praise in “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman are both fantastic in their roles, as the former conveys both conviction and vulnerability from the outset, and the latter commands the screen whenever he’s on it. You can’t feel comfortable when Goodman is on screen, because his performance is just so forceful and his character is incredibly unbalanced – Goodman gives Howard layers, so that he is believable as both the villain and the hero of the piece.

John Gallagher Jr., also gives a great performance as Emmett, but his role is more supportive than anything else. The film revolves around the relationship between Michelle and Howard, with Emmett acting as a friend for Michelle and a much needed comic relief at certain points.

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John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle in 10 Cloverfield Lane, by Paramount Pictures

I have two issues with the film, but to explain either of them in any detail requires that I get into spoiler territory. That’s not something that I want to do, so I’ll just say that the first issue is with a plan that Emmett and Michelle come up with towards the end of the film, and the second is the ending itself. The ending is exactly what I expected given the title of the film and the reviews that I read prior to seeing it, so it didn’t spoil the experience for me, but there is a significant tonal shift which doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the movie. If you want me to explain my issues with the film in greater detail then please feel free to comment!

On the whole, I thought that “10 Cloverfield Lane” was a measured and entertaining thriller with three great performances. I also thought that it was an exceptional directorial debut for Dan Trachtenberg, and that it was a better film than the one which inspired it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and I would recommend it to just about anyone (with the warning that the ending isn’t brilliant).

8.5/10

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