Release date: 18 March 2016
Running time: 103 min
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
It’s been eight years since Matt Green’s Cloverfield brought authenticity to the big monster movie with Blair Witch-style shaky cam and tonnes of carnage. Although light on character, the intense action set-pieces made for one hell of roller coaster thrill-ride on the big screen. Going in the opposite direction, Dan Trachtenberg’s quasi-sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane relies heavily upon its three leads for the majority of its screen time; the labyrinth of New York replaced by the claustrophobic confines of a nuclear bunker.
When Michelle (Winstead) decides to leave her fiancé for undisclosed reasons, she makes off in her car and drives towards an unknown location. It’s dark outside by the time the crash happens; a truck smashes into her car and sends her flying off the road. A day or so later she wakes up in what appears to be a jail cell, hooked up to a drip and chained to a pipe. When the intimidating Howard (Goodman) appears, he purports to have found her and nursed her back to health. The bad news is that he can’t let her leave, the reasoning for her supposed captivity being shrouded in mystery and doubt.
To reveal any more would ruin it for any potential viewers, the twisting nature of its plot providing the basis for much of its appeal. Like its predecessor it does a very effective job of building intrigue by being very careful about what it chooses to reveal. The characters here are constantly circling round each other, creating an atmosphere full of suspicion and paranoia. John Goodman is the highlight as the incredibly hot and cold Howard, a man who constantly changes in the eyes of his fellow companions, but is always kept at arms length. Is he really right about the world above, or is he just a regurgitator of conspiracy theories? Why did he build the shelter? What reason did he have to rescue Michelle? There are many questions surrounding their circumstance, and the answers are always in doubt.
Where 10 Cloverfield Lane falters is in connection to its predecessor. It feels like a weight upon its shoulders that it can’t be free from, an inevitability that you’re constantly anticipating. It would have been more rewarding had it subverted our expectations further, and indeed there were many chances and hinted at subplots which could have instigated a change in direction. Or perhaps it would have been better to have ditched the connection altogether; the original script apparently had no relation to Cloverfield whatsoever. What we’re left with is an intense and at times genuinely unnerving experience which peters out towards an unsatisfying conclusion. J.J. Abrams may not have had much to do with this, but his fingerprints are all over it: all suspense and hype with no meaningful pay-off.