(10 Cloverfield Lane, 2016)
An unnerving bottle-episode thriller that thrives on the impending fear of the unknown.
By Lucy Goldsmith
Smugly billed as the ‘blood relative’ of sci-fi staple Cloverfield (2008), the directorial debut 10 Cloverfield Lane for Dan Trachtenberg hit cinemas in much the same way of its proudly-touted predecessor. This is thanks once again to the marketing strategies of J.J. Abrams. However, despite taking place in the same universe it would be a mistake to bill 10 Cloverfield Lane as a sequel. Instead it provides an unexpected experience, for on setting its audience up for an alien-heavy romp it instead delivers an unnerving bottle-episode thriller that thrives on the impending fear of the unknown extra-terrestrial waiting just outside the door.
The film opens with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who whilst running away from a home, a fiancé and a whole lot of implied complications with her life, gets badly injured in a violent car accident. On awakening, she finds herself locked up in a military bunker by unsettling ex-Navy turned alien conspiracy theorist Howard (played to disturbed perfection by John Goodman,) who insists somewhat unconvincingly that her captivity is in fact a rescue; from an unidentified earth-wide attack that will do evil to any human attempting to resurface. Completing the trio of survivors is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) the track star dropout turned builder who verifies that indeed Howard is right – something is out there.
That ‘something’ is the threat that drives 10 Cloverfield Lane into a startlingly intense playoff of tensions between the three protagonists. Trapped in the claustrophobia of the bunker alongside the trio, the audience begins to question whether the real monster is indeed waiting outside. Whilst the opening is sublime – there are subtle revelations about Winstead’s character through quiet cinematography. This sets a foundation in the mind of the audience that her background of abusive relationships may well be tainting all of her interactions with her admittedly unsettling rescuer, to make him appear instead as a captor More than once the soundtrack became noticeable as a nuisance rather than an enhancement, drowning out the tension straining to be shivered at between Goodman and Winstead. We are getting a character study thriller rather than a more overt alien threat for the most part of the film. That we are getting a character study thriller rather than a more overt alien threat for the most part of the film would have better lent itself to more minimalist camerawork and score, rather than the noise-laden extreme close-ups.
As the film finds its stride straddling between low-budget-esque psychological nail-biter and impending alien world takeover, what we do get are some unexpectedly disturbing moments. There is even a couple of cleverly places jump-scares, as well as some nice allusions to classic slasher horror involving coffin-like air vents and an Alien-esque Ripley heroine. However, the gripping build-up of the bunker is frustratingly a fantastic premise that gets drowned out by its cliché blockbuster tie-in ending that feels superfluous and out of place with the main message. It seems a shame that a film that manages to capture such a captivating claustrophobia of emotion amongst its three leads felt the need to compromise this potential by way of its obligatory Cloverfield tie-in. Nonetheless, the superb acting by all three leads and a few dark twists to keep the audience on tenterhooks are enough reason to redeem 10 Cloverfield Lane as a blockbuster thriller that just about keeps its edge.