10 Cloverfield Lane, the spiritual successor to Matt Reeves' 2008 found-footage film, Cloverfield, is a gut-clenching, heart-racing experience that doesn't let up the level of intensity it instills in the audience for even a minute.
The movie, which takes place for the most part inside a tiny bunker, is terrifying, but subtle. The horror begins with one concept and as the film progresses, branches off into streams of specific subgenres found within the sphere of scary movies. It's deliberate and the result is a smorgasbord of homages to different movies of horror past.
10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t have much in common with its predecessor, but splitting off into a new narrative works out much better for the film. Unlike Cloverfield, which stands as a one-off film, 10 Cloverfield Lane sets itself up for a potential franchise and in doing so, has created one of the most badass female heroines in modern sci-fi and horror.
The film starts with Michelle — played by the brilliant Mary Elizabeth Winstead — driving through a deserted back country in Louisiana. As she's driving along, her car gets sideswiped by an oncoming van.
When she wakes up, she's chained to a wall and convinced she's been kidnapped by a predator. It's the start of 10 Cloverfield Lane's descent into various subgenres, and right off the bat, it feels familiar. There's an immediate panic that overtakes Michelle and its effect is contagious. It's hard not to feel tense when she's desperately pulling at the restraint on her leg, trying to break free. All while taking in her new and strange surroundings.
The panic doesn't last long, however, and Michelle slowly calms herself down enough to try and think of a way she can use the limited objects around her, including an IV drip that has been attached to her arm, to reach her cellphone and call for help. Although it seems rudimentary, it's the best introduction to the type of character Michelle is.
There's a lot of uncertainty that Michelle is faced with the minute she wakes up, and that confusion only grows when she meets the man who supposedly saved her from the wreckage, Howard. Played with the perfect amount of creepy and deranged by John Goodman, Harold is the first person to tell Michelle about what's going on outside of the bunker. Untrusting of him at first, the more time Michelle spends with Howard, the closer they become, although she's constantly on her toes, waiting to jump back from his grip at a moment's notice.
There are too many secrets that each of them are holding to actually let the other person in, but that doesn't stop them from trying to replicate a family-like atmosphere. Especially when a third member of the faux family is introduced.
For the most part, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a thriller wrapped up in a horror film
Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr, provides the much needed comic relief needed with a movie of this intensity. He and Michelle bond instantly, much to the displeasure of Harold, and spend their days playing board games, solving a communal puzzle and taking personality quizzes in teen fashion magazines to pass the time. The more Emmett and Michelle learn about each other, the closer they become, and the more they rely on each other to weather out the storm, all the while keeping an eye on Howard and trying to decipher whether or not he's a good samaritan or a predator in disguise.
For the most part, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a thriller wrapped up in a horror film, but some of the best moments occur when the three characters are just lounging around and learning to live with one another under the most dire of conditions.
Even meals take on a life of their own as Michelle and Emmett attempt to joke around with one another while escaping the wrath of Howard. It's in the most ordinary and mundane of events that the movie finds some of its most disturbing moments. Director Dan Trachtenberg understands this and uses the family setting to instill some of the scariest moments in the film.
It's impossible to discuss what happens in the rest of the movie without getting into heavy spoiler territory, but things go from abnormal to troublesome to lethal pretty quickly, resulting in one of the most gripping last few moments of a film.
Even though Goodman and Gallagher Jr gave stellar performances, it was Winstead who stole the show. Reminiscent of Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor in the Terminator series, Winstead's Michelle learns pretty early on during this entire ordeal that she's not one to back away from a fight.
She works tirelessly to escape the situation she's found herself in, and it's only after she's faced with the greatest obstacle, that she discovers a side of her she wasn't aware existed. The movie started with Michelle running away, but ends with her running toward the fight and embracing all that she's come to learn.
It was Winstead who stole the show
The reason Michelle works as a character, however, is because Winstead plays her with a certain level of humility that sits underneath the confidence she exerts. Deciding to give Michelle this extremely human approach to the events that have occurred around her makes the audience more sympathetic to her situation, and in turn, makes them want her to succeed at every turn.
Although Winstead is still a relatively fresh face on the scene, this is a defining performance for her, and without it, 10 Cloverfield Lane would have missed the emotional element it needed for the movie to succeed.
The other interesting aspect about 10 Cloverfield Lane, that will be talked about vaguely to, once again, avoid major spoilers, is that it feels like two movies for the price of one. Despite the two halves feeling vastly different — because they are — the film works remarkably well.
In splitting the movie into two different genres, 10 Cloverfield Lane is going to give fans of the original the experience they wanted, plus a little more. It could have been a disastrous call, to effectively end one narrative and pick up a slightly different one midway, but it all blends together seamlessly, and Trachtenberg ensures that the movie makes sense even with the change in direction.
It's a rare treat to see a movie of this nature take a chance on altering the linear narrative it's based on, but it's one of the main reasons that 10 Cloverfield Lane feels as refreshing as it does.
Here's the bottom line about 10 Cloverfield Lane: it's a fun, terrifying take on what's been a bit of a stale genre. It leaves itself open to mystery and asks the audience to explore the possibility of what's happened with the characters instead of just explaining it to them.
This is the type of movie that's going to make you jump in your seat — repeatedly — but not from manipulative tactics like jump scares. It's a smart and resourceful take on horror that will appeal to both fans of the genre and those looking for a good modern-day science-fiction story.
10 Cloverfield Lane isn't revolutionary, but it's an embracing welcome back to the type of genre storytelling that's been sorely missed.
This is a good one, kids.