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10 Cloverfield Lane

This spiritual successor to the found footage monster movie takes things in a menacing new direction.
By Sarah Ward
March 12, 2016
By Sarah Ward
March 12, 2016

You don’t call a movie 10 Cloverfield Lane without trying to get your audience guessing. With JJ Abrams in the producer's chair, there's an immediate game afoot. Just how will it connect to Cloverfield, the 2008 found footage creature feature he was also involved in? That's just one of the questions the movie inspires, though in truth it might be the least interesting. Given that the film spends the bulk of its time in a bunker with a suspicious Mary Elizabeth Winstead and a possibly hostile John Goodman hiding from what may or may not be an apocalyptic attack, there are plenty of other things to contemplate.

Here's two: is Howard (Goodman) telling the truth when he tells Michelle (Winstead) that he's keeping her underground for her own safety? Or is the paranoid doomsday fanatic using his survivalist obsession for more nefarious means? When an accident brings the two together, Michelle can't help doubting Howard's true motives after she wakes up injured, semi-clad and chained to the wall. He spins a story about global devastation, which fellow cellar dweller Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) backs up. However, even when the trio settles into a tentative routine of dinners and board games, she can't shake the feeling that something isn't right.

Indeed, Michelle might pretend otherwise — and prove determined and resourceful when needed — but there's no mistaking her anxiety and uncertainty. Those emotions aren't hers alone, with 10 Cloverfield Lane forcing viewers to share in her uneasiness. Hiding as much as they make plain, first-time director Dan Trachtenberg and writers Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) sustain a pressure-cooker atmosphere and an air of mystery. Through canny camera placement, fine-tuned framing, savvy editing, a foreboding score and a willingness to take its time, the claustrophobic thriller has great fun teasing its audience.

Maintaining a balance of playfulness and suspense also helps counter any similarities to Room or even The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — and while shades of everything from Psycho to War of the Worlds are also evident, the film's path is its own. Forget the shaky visuals and sprawling nature of its predecessor, too. In an effort Abrams has labelled a "spiritual successor" to Cloverfield rather than a sequel, the images are stable, the focus tight and confined, and the menace more psychological than monstrous.

Of course, Goodman ensures the threat of physical terror never quite dissipates, in his most substantial role in years. His richly textured performance is only one part of the on-screen equation though, with Winstead's reactions equally as precise and persuasive. Watching the two face off over what's going on and why they're there — with a mostly affable Gallagher in the middle — makes it easy to forget that there's the bigger puzzle of the feature's name to ponder. They're so effective, as is the film in keeping the mood tense and the surprises coming, that 10 Cloverfield Lane proves gripping irrespective of any monster movie ties.

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