POTENTIAL MINOR SPOILERS
When was the last time you knew next to nothing about a film before you sit down in the cinema? In these days of trailers, teaser trailers, teasers for teaser trailers and dozens of TV spots you can basically piece together the major plot beats before you’ve even bought your ticket. So it’s a refreshing surprise when you take your seat and have no clue how a film with play out. 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film no-one even knew about until two months ago is one such film. And as such, you should really go into it knowing as little as possible. Which makes for a short review.
Starting out originally as nothing to with the Cloverfield ‘brand,’ then retooled into a ‘blood relative’ to 2008’s New York monster mash (though still pretty much nothing to do with that film), we open Psycho-like with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle fleeing in her car, and brought to ‘safety’ in an underground bunker by apocalypse prepper Howard (John Goodman) after she’s run off the road. Howard tells her that he saved her life and that everyone on the surface is dead after an attack. Is it the monster from Cloverfield, nuclear Armageddon, or is Howard simply telling porkies? No-one’s saying, but as is the case in these types of things, all is not quite what it appears.
Or is it?
Maybe. Or maybe not. To say would be to spoil the film’s surprises, of which there are many. But even then the surprises aren’t the point of this film. For the majority of the running time it plays out as a three hander (with John Gallagher Jr’s willing bunker inhabitant Emmett rounding out our cast) that ratchets ups the tension in the increasingly claustrophobic bunker. Director Dan Tractenberg’s first full length feature hinges of themes of distrust and you’ll find your sympathies switching with every new revelation, as he turns the screw with each scene leading to the most heart pounding dinner tables conversations this side of Inglourious Basterds. Is Howard telling the truth, or is he involved in something more sinister? The movie never explicity tells us, nor should it, letting the actors do the heavy lifting. Goodman (magnetic) walks a fine line between abuser and saviour, sweet one moment but prone to explosive rage at the slightest provocation, but this is really Winstead’s film. Resourceful, cunning and with a backstory that informs almost all of her decisions she’s the MVP of the film, which is no mean feat when you’re up against a powerhouse like Goodman.
Directed with brutal economy, the film is essentially Chekov’s Everything. A bottle of whiskey, an IV drip; everything is used and nothing on screen serves no purpose. One wonders how many people the film will lose when, in its final act, the B-movie trappings that one assumes comes along with being a Cloverfield movie take the film into a completely different genre, but it’s in keeping with the subtext running throughout the movie to create a final moment as fist pumping as anything in your more traditional blockbuster.
And while the Cloverfield branding may have been nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy, this still deserves to be seen as an example of how heart-thumpingly intense a film can be when you’re never sure what’s going to happen next.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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