10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
10 Cloverfield Lane is the kind of film that gets made without anybody knowing about it and then suddenly boom; there it is in theaters, completely taking you by surprise. Suddenly there’s a new film produced by J.J. Abrams that nobody knew a thing about! And it’s supposed to be intense and scary! Suddenly there’s a buzz about the movie. Could it be as good as everyone is saying? What is this mystery box that Abrams has suddenly thrown our way? While Abrams served as a producer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, this film was actually written and directed by a group of newcomers who are slowly working their way up to making bigger films. A small budget film like 10 Cloverfield Lane which was made with only 15 million dollars, can give up and coming writers and directors the opportunity to show they can handle a film with special effects while at the same time, showing they can squeeze a good, solid, convincing performance from their actors. Case in point, Dan Trachtenberg and Damien Chazelle are part of a new wave of filmmakers that’s popping up. They represent an entirely new generation of writers and directors and we get to see them take their first baby steps in the world of filmmaking. I went to the theater to find out if 10 Cloverfield Lane was worth all the hype its been getting. How was it?
The premise for this film is extremely simple, a woman who ends up in a car accident, wakes up in a bunker, beneath ground not knowing how she got there. Soon she discovers that a man rescued her and he claims there’s been some sort of attack. He says that the air outside the bunker is contaminated by toxic chemicals that will melt your skin off. Problem is the woman has no way of knowing if what the man claims is true or not. Is he a psycho who wants to lock her up and do nasty things to her? Or has there actually be some sort of attack that has contaminated the air?
10 Cloverfield Lane strives on intensity, paranoia and the performances delivered by the actors involved. In this sense, I say 10 Cloverfield Lane succeeds. This isn’t a film that rides on wowing us with computer effects or action; instead, it tries to genuinely creep us out with its situations, the way the characters react and with where your imagination can take you. This film effectively plays with what we don’t see. It makes us imagine the worst. I heard some people disappointed by the film because they thought it was going to be something else, they were maybe expecting a film centering on action and effects. Shows how deluded audiences are, I mean, come on, not everything has to be a constant barrage of computer effects! How about a slow burner that creeps up beneath your skin? How about you get into that? How about you just let a movie be what it is, without letting your expectations get in the way? Truth is, audiences are so dumbed down by commercial blockbuster films that this is all they’ve come to expect from movies. So when something a bit more minimalist comes along, they feel disappointed.
Point I’m trying to make is that 10 Cloverfield Lane is actually a gripping and intense movie that runs on performances, mainly that of John Goodman as Howard, the guy who seems to be kind of nuts, but maybe he’s on to something? The ambiguity with this character is fantastic, really dug that about Goodman’s performance and the way the character was written. Actually, it brought to mind another ambiguous ‘maybe he’s good, maybe he’s the devil’ type of character that John Goodman himself played in the Cohen Brothers Barton Fink (1991), in fact I’m sure that particular performance is why he was chosen for 10 Cloverfield Lane. The thing about Goodman is that he can play the sweetest characters, like Babe Ruth in The Babe (1991) or when he played Dan Conner in Roseanne, but when he goes dark, he can really deliver! On this one, he goes batshit insane and it’s convincing. I was also glad to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a film, I’ve always thought she’s underused in cinema, and here she is again delivering an awesome performance in a strong female lead.
10 Cloverfield Lane is not groundbreaking cinema by any standards; it is not a wholly original film. It plays with a familiar premise, that of a group of strangers kooked up in a claustrophobic environment while society disintegrates. The confined space they are in is a microcosm of society, we are them and they are us. For similar films watch Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Divide (2011), Cube (1997) or if you want to go further back, The War of the Worlds (1953). These kinds of films milk people’s fears of society breaking down, they explore the idea that we are our own worst enemies, or the idea that that someday we might all blow each other up. Though we don’t live under the intense nuclear paranoia that people from the 50’s or from the 80’s did, we do have North Korea threatening to press the button, so yeah, our collective fears do work themselves into this film and juice it for all its worth. In this way, science fiction films are again mirroring reality, as they have always done.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Dan Trachtenberg directing his first feature film, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)