Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.

This week, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman learn that monsters take many forms in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

People Are Strange Creatures

In the wake of a horrific car accident, Michelle (Winstead) finds herself confined to an underground bunker. There she meets a sketchy survivalist named Howard (Goodman) and an affable local named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Her bunker-mates claim that an apocalyptic event has taken place above ground, that Howard is the only reason they’re alive, and that his bunker is now the safest place on Earth. But all may not be what it seems. Howard is a man of many secrets. While he claims that monsters walk the Earth above, a monster below may pose an even bigger threat. And Michelle knows that she must find a way out. So begins Dan Trachtenberg’s stylish game of cat and mouse and …. other things.

Cloverfield Lane

Crazy Is Building Your Ark After the Flood

It’s easy to forget, but people weren’t really talking about 10 Cloverfield Lane before its release. That’s because the film’s plot – and its apparent connection to Cloverfield (2008) – was kept on strict lockdown by the folks at Bad Robot. Even the cast didn’t know the title until after filming wrapped. The general public didn’t catch wind of the connection until the trailer dropped in mid-January. When that trailer premiered, the internet nearly broke itself with wild fan theories and shot by shot breakdowns. By the time the 10 Cloverfield Lane hit theaters, anticipation was at fever pitch. Fever pitch means expectations … the sort that often lead to box-office failure. But that rule only applies to conventional films. And 10 Cloverfield Lane is anything but conventional.

That includes an unusual path to becoming Cloverfield Lane. The screenplay was originally a stand-alone thriller before J.J. Abrams had writers Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle (of Whiplash and La La Land fame) re-work it as a Cloverfield companion. Along the way, the story shifted from straight paranoid thriller to a genre mashup featuring elements of sci-fi, horror, mystery, and drama. But genre mashup doesn’t quite do the film justice. 10 Cloverfield Lane is less a genre mashup than it is a genre of its own. A genre where any element from any story ever told can drop in and feel right at home.

Of course, in this case that home is a fallout shelter buried a hundred feet below the surface of the Earth. And its owner may be a paranoid lunatic. Or he might not be. Much of the tension in 10 Cloverfield Lane derives from two simple questions – Who is Howard? and Can he be trusted? Winstead’s Michelle spends most of the movie trying to unravel that mystery. The answers to those questions come with their own frightful truths. But those answers are never as easy as they seem. As the mystery unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that some cataclysmic event has actually happened on the surface and that Howard is at best … unstable. Tensions mount. Plans are made. Before all is said and done, Michelle will have to decide which monsters are scarier … those unknown on the surface or those staring her right in the face.

But I’ll stop there. To say more would ruin the surprises. And 10 Cloverfield Lane is full of them. Just know that every surprise leads to a bold new question. And every new question enhances an already rigid story fueled by paranoia, fear, and despair. Through each gut-wrenching moment Director Dan Trachtenberg makes staggering use of space to enhance those suffocating emotions. From the first moments inside the bunker you can feel the concrete walls and exposed pipes closing in on the inhabitants. Even cozier rooms – wallpapered and furnished – feel confining through the claustrophobic lens of DP Jeff Cutter. With each passing minute those walls only get closer. As they do, those shrinking spaces become taut emotional cages.

Trachtenberg doubles down on that claustrophobia by casting John Goodman as Howard. 10 Cloverfield Lane sees the actor deliver one of his most physical performances to date. Goodman’s broad shoulders and imposing figure threaten to eat up every inch of an already tight frame. But it’s Howard’s personality that ultimately devours that frame. Goodman packs a powder keg of menace behind every expectant word, every shy smile, and every kind gesture. Any comfort Howard provides comes with an unspoken cost. Watching Goodman navigate these complex scenes with such skill is a reminder that he’s one of the great unsung actors of our time. Sure, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the star of 10 Cloverfield Lane. And yes, she delivers a fierce, intelligent performance worthy of every accolade. But this is John Goodman’s movie. This is a role he was born to play. It may be the defining performance of his career. Count your lucky stars that it came in such a solid film.

Cloverfield Lane

Worth It?

Tense, intelligent, and highly entertaining, 10 Cloverfield Lane is one hell of a fun movie. It’s absolutely worth your dollar this week. And it proves a compelling second cousin to its Bad Robot namesake. Just to be clear, 10 Cloverfield Lane has no direct connection to 2008’s found-footage stunner Cloverfield. At least not yet. But keep an eye on future Bad Robot releases. J.J. Abrams & Co. claim to have plans to tie the two films together. And they may have a plan for an entire Cloverfield universe. I think we’d all love to see that happen. Until it does, sit back and enjoy the claustrophobic, paranoid world of 10 Cloverfield Lane. Then think about revisiting the original Cloverfield. ‘Cause it’s still a great film. And it’s held up pretty damn well in the eight years since its release. Now, who wants a Slusho?

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