Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Release Date: 18th March 2016 (UK)
When one of the leading trade magazine’s in the world begins lobbying John Goodman’s Oscar consideration for what is essentially a horror movie, heads will turn. The award and the genre rarely go hand in hand, but after watching 10 Cloverfield Lane you will perhaps join me in testifying that Variety’s claim was by no means misplaced.
As the opening pre-titles, pre-studio ident cards come up and the 12A rating is confirmed, you’re forgiven for wondering if you’ve even turned up to the right movie. After all this is a horror sequel, and history tells us things get more extreme and more desperate to keep our wandering eyes, and wallets, firmly fixated on their franchise. But this isn’t your standard sequel; in fact this may not be considered much of a sequel at all, at least no more so than The Avengers is a sequel to Iron Man.
The film opens with a woman dumping her partner and leaving the house without missing the bottle of whiskey which was clearly intended to be consumed. It won’t be, but it will be important. Before she has time to think about hanging up on Bradley Cooper (the voice of her now ex-partner) her car is swept off the road from a loud collision that lifts everyone in the cinema about three inches from their seat. These moments of shock are sublimely executed, if not a little frustrating.
The woman, who we learn to be Michelle, awakes to find herself chained to the wall of a scarce room, connected to an IV drip and completely unaware of how she got there. This is approximately the same time as the events of Cloverfield are unfolding. While New Yorkers are fleeing the streets of Manhattan for their lives, others, like Howard, have been preparing for such a scenario most of their lives and created a sophisticated bunker capable of housing himself and guests for at least a year.
Enter John Goodman in one of the finest leading roles of his career as the terribly lonely and mildly insane farmer, with a performance obviously and rightly inspired by Kathy Bates in Misery. His paranoia, the ambiguity around his past, and the extremities to which he is prepared to go to protect his bunker are the catalysts that turn this small group of underground refugees against one another. John Gallagher Jr. is unrecognisable from his days in The Newsroom as employee Emmett, and his relationship with Michelle teases something more but enacts supreme self control not to distract itself with a love story which would be entirely superfluous and self-gratuitous.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead brings her little known experience (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Final Destination 3, The Thing) into a role which does lots to empower women through its positive representation of a final girl. She starts with self-assurance and independence and learns to channel that through an extraordinary situation, much unlike the typical timid teenager who ‘finds herself’ through the horror and learns to fumble her through to the end, usually against the uncharacteristically toned down efforts of her pursuant. Here instead we have a female character who deserves her Final Girl accolade, and Winstead plays her with deserving heaps of confidence and aptitude.
Of course there’s a conflict, and of course one of them ends up outside the bunker; it would be a fairly uneventful movie were this not to happen. Some viewers may be surprised, perhaps disappointed that this happens as late on as it does, but this is not a film specifically about the aliens, rather they are the trigger that caused the events of the movie to occur.
The most important element to know before experiencing 10 Cloverfield Lane is this is not a film that needs to be understood and watched as a sequel. As a tense drama this is wonderfully orchestrated, independently enjoyable and fully formed in its own right, however the writers (which includes the incredible Damien Chazelle) have penned a film which can also sit within a broader arc exploring the arrival, the dominance and the expected revolution against the aliens. You’ll understand.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a great movie. Maybe it’s not alien enough for you, but if that’s what you want then don’t be deterred by this, and watch the inevitable part three. However, anyone who admires J.J. Abrams will probably leave the cinema with the same awe and appreciation with which they entered.