’10 Cloverfield Lane’ Review: Twilight Zoned

'10 Cloverfield Lane'

Movie Rating:

3.5

The worst thing about ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is the title. It’s not just awkward; it’s a spoiler. Sadly, the realities of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking mean that the movie has to be marketed as a franchise entry and even the deliberately oblique trailer or the claims that this is merely a “blood relative” to the original ‘Cloverfield’ kind of blow the finale.

Thankfully, there’s very little to complain about in ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ beyond the title. If you somehow haven’t figured out what that means, then you’re in the best possible circumstance to see the movie. It’s a damn good thriller. It just could have been a great one if the marketing department had let J.J. Abrams play this hand even closer to his chest.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, a young woman fleeing a relationship when she ends up in a car wreck. She wakes up hours later handcuffed to a wall and sweating through a bare mattress. Her captor is Howard (John Goodman), a mysterious man who claims to have saved her and brought her to his secret underground shelter. Apparently, something bad happened above ground, leaving the world in an apocalyptic state. Howard, Michelle and another young man named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr. from ‘The Newsroom’) are all lucky to have been invited into the shelter, even if it tends to feel more like a prison.

That summary covers roughly the first ten or so minutes of the movie and I wouldn’t dare to reveal any more. Title aside, producer Abrams and company have done a damn good job keeping their secrets intact, and with good reason. This is another exercise in Abrams’ patented “Mystery Box” school of storytelling, and this time the minimal cast actually live within that mystery box.

Written by Damien Chazelle (‘Whiplash’), Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ falls somewhere between a tightly constructed chamber drama and an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’. Beyond an overwhelming sense of paranoia and suspense hanging over every scene, the tone and even genre of the piece shift freely at the will of the filmmakers. At times, the movie even plays like a comedy, just one that could go wrong at any second. Director Dan Trachtenberg shoots it all with such a clear command of space, tempo and thrills that it’s remarkable the movie qualifies as a feature debut. The mysteries surrounding every character are so dense and fluid that it’s virtually impossible to tear your eyes from the screen or predict the next twist. This might essentially be a three-hander character piece, but it plays out with more excitement and intensity than most genre efforts on a massive scale.

However, despite all the careful writing and clever filmmaking on display, the concept demands that ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ be an actor’s picture and none of the three leads disappoint. John Gallagher, Jr. lays on some thick country charm that always hints at a sense of suffering beneath the surface. John Goodman delivers one of the finest performances of his career, towering over his the other cast physically and psychologically. Though he gets some dark laughs, most of his usual sweetness is hidden beneath lonely swagger and explosions of anger that make him difficult to trust even in his gentlest moments. He creates a terrifying figure without ever feeling like a heartless monster and it’s a hell of performance.

Though Goodman gets showiest role, it’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s film to carry and she does so brilliantly. Never for a moment does she fall into damsel-in-distress mode. Her character is always thinking, plotting and sizing up her situation and surroundings. Though she rarely speaks her true feelings for fear of being overheard, it’s always clear what she’s thinking and what she’s hiding through subtle looks and silent emoting. It’s a remarkable bit of work from the underrated actress, and even stretches into previously untested waters of ass-kickery that suggest she could very well become an action star if that’s of any interest to her.

It’s difficult to describe exactly what’s so good and impressive about ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ without giving the game away. That should be avoided since the filmmakers have done well concealing the secrets that viewers should discover while their palms are sweating in the tensest moments. Trachtenberg and his screenwriters play the audience like an instrument and it’s damn near impossible not to get swept up and enjoy the ride.

Granted, the finale leaves a little to be desired both thanks to the title and the fact that Trachtenberg’s stylish shooting and staging devolves into tedious shaky-cam silliness. Still, these weaknesses are minor even if they do sadly limit ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ to merely being a very good movie as opposed to the great one it inches towards. That’s just fine, though. Damn good genre movies are hard enough to find, especially within the studio system. Everyone involved deserves praise for pulling this tense little genre experiment off. This series is quickly turning into one of the more intriguing franchises clogging up the Hollywood production slate. It’ll be fascinating to see what’s planned for the third act, given how well the last two movies have delivered the unexpected. It’s safe to say Abrams has something big hidden at the bottom of the ‘Cloverfield’ mystery box, and hopefully it won’t be too long before we all get to sneak a peek.

23 comments

    • Al

      How would John Goodman be a spoiler? I’ve seen both films. I don’t tie him into anything that would spoil ’10 C L’.

    • Dexter Young

      Consider this: since O Brother, has Goodman ever played anything other than Goodman? Casting Goodman is always a give away.

  1. SPOILER ALERT: The title doesn’t spoil as much of the movie as the opening paragraph of the review does. Being a “blood relative” and carrying the tagline “Monsters come in many forms” (aka, John Goodman) doesn’t reveal anything that’s to come. Knowing that, viewers are going in with hope of seeing the two movies connected, but have no clue if that’s going to happen. The opening paragraph of this review insinuates that the finale makes an absolute connection to ‘Cloverfield,’ something the title and advertising haven’t done yet.

    • It’s my understanding that neither Winstead nor Goodman knew the movie they were making would turn into a Cloverfield sequel. It was called ‘Valencia’ when they shot it, and the decision to connect it to Cloverfield came very late in production.

    • Al

      Phil or Luke,

      I’ll bite, and admit to being completely naive. I’ve seen both ‘Cloverfied’ films. I enjoyed them both, although I’ll admit to liking ’10’ quite a bit more. I still have no idea why the first film is titled ‘Cloverfield’, or how ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ could ever be considered a spoiler, even after seeing it. Perhaps you can post a SPOILER ALERT and fill me in? It would be greatly appreciated.

      • Phil

        Well…Cloverfield introduced a monster movie situation, so you kind of have to assume that’ll continue in 10 Cloverfield Lane. I just think that’s a shame because it should be a mystery not an expectation in this particular story.

      • The title Cloverfield started out as a code name for the movie, because J.J. Abrams’ offices are located on Cloverfield Blvd in Santa Monica. Abrams liked the sound of it, and the name stuck. As I recall, the movie worked in some references to “Cloverfield” being the military’s secret code name for the monster, but otherwise left it unexplained.

        The new movie started out as a script called ‘The Cellar’ that had nothing to do with Cloverfield. The movie went into production with the title ‘Valencia’, and still had nothing to do with Cloverfield. The decision to connect it to Cloverfield came late in production. The new title ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ could be considered a spoiler simply because it does link this movie to Cloverfield, and thus suggests that the disaster outside the bunker is due to a giant monster. If this had been released under either of its original titles, nobody in the audience would have any reason to suspect that.

        Also, the trailers all end with a shot of Mary Elizabeth Winstead running outside and looking up to see something huge hidden by fog towering over the house. When you see that, and then the title ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ comes up on screen, it leads to one pretty obvious assumption of what’s happening.

        Imagine if this were called ’10 Godzilla St.’ and you get the idea.

          • Al

            I always heard that Cloverfield was the name of the freeway exit that Abrams would take, in order to get to his Santa Monica office. Apparently, the Santa Monica airport used to be called Clover Field. I had no idea that’s why the first movie was named ‘Cloverfield’. How disappointing! I always thought it was some big mystery; like Marsellus’ briefcase.

          • Palmer

            Nope. They were on the Paramount lot then.

            But to Al’s point, Cloverfield is a huge exit on The 10 freeway. Didn’t know that about the airport, though. That’s a fun anecdote if it’s true. Then again, if it’s not on IMDB…can anything be true?

        • Al

          That’s hilarious! I knew all of this, and still has no idea that any of it was a spoiler, or that they were trying to keep it a secret. From the moment that I first watched the ’10CL’ trailer, several months ago, it was obvious that the new film is linked to ‘Cloverfield’, and that the disaster outside the bunker was caused by, well… Like you pointed out, everything was exceedingly obvious. We’ll just leave it at that, in case someone accidentally reads all of this. I guess I knew the answer to my question, and just didn’t realize that there was any secrecy about connecting the new film to the original. They sure did a wonderful job of hiding that! 😂

  2. Scott

    Just got back from the theater.

    I’m sorry but that movie was awful, terrible, a complete waste of time, and worst of all simply, unarguably, categorically BORING!!!

    Seriously, I had laundry in my closet that I should have been doing instead. And it probably would have been a lot more enjoyable to stuff the washing machine and watch the window on the front loader for two hours than sitting there watching that awful, terrible, boring movie.

    And FWIW I loved the first one.

    • CC

      Yeah. I agree that it is at best a **1/2 movie. It settles into cliched melodramatic tension – (that in retrospect, offers nothing to the overall effect).
      I always find that a good yardstick for a movie is its inherent rewatchablity. You know- the movies that make you turn around and go right back into the theater to see again….
      Once is fine for this. This is in many ways a 40 Minute work that was streched out…
      A good Twilight Zone Episode.

  3. Read every comment and agree with at least part of most of them. I thought naming it 10 Cloverfield lane was a complete spoiler. I was a little bored but generally thought it was well made. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was amazing. I actually liked the ending sequence (though the final resolution was cheesy). Only a slight spoiler alert: I was confused by the super secret marketing. Even the above (very well written) review said they didn’t want to “dare reveal anymore”. Why? They are in a bunker, either their captor is crazy or not. Outside is either bad or not. What’s the secret? The final act. Agree but the first hour and half are pretty straight forward. Hate to say it but I enjoyed a similarly themed movie called “Right at your Door” that probably cost a fraction of this film. I will leave on a positive note. That director is going to have a great career based on this.

Leave a Reply to Josh Zyber Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *