10 Cloverfield Lane had an interesting journey to the big screen. Back in 2014 it was announced that JJ Abrams and Bad Robot were producing a new movie called Valencia, which was based on an original script called The Cellar. Then, well, not much was revealed and people mostly seemed to forget all about it. Cut to this January, and suddenly there’s a completed movie with a trailer and a March release date. The finished product, 10 Cloverfield Lane, has been referred to as a “blood relative” of the 2008 hit Cloverfield.
Much like hype played a role in the response to The Witch, it’s also a factor here. The secretive nature of the production, the sudden release of a trailer, the cryptic comments about its relation to Cloverfield, and the withholding of as much information as possible regarding the real threat were part of a calculated (and clever) effort to drum up as much hype as humanly possible. It’s only fair then for viewers to have very high expectations of the end result. So does it live up to all the hype? Yes and no. No spoilers here.
We meet Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at a time of personal crisis. She is in a hurry, frantically packing a few things before leaving her residence (we catch a quick glimpse of an engagement ring as she walks out the door). As she’s driving on a country road at night, far from civilization, there’s a car accident that leaves her vehicle overturned far off the road.
Michelle wakes up in a precarious situation. She is injured, underground, and chained to a bed in a small room. Naturally she’s terrified. Soon, she is greeted by a middle-aged man named Howard (John Goodman). Howard tells her that the world as they know it has ended. Everyone is dead, everywhere. It was probably a nuclear or chemical attack. There’s nothing but silence on his radio so it’s hard to tell. He tells Michelle that he saved her life, but she can’t leave the shelter because the air outside is not breathable. They need to chill out down there for a year, possibly two.
This is all incredibly effective. Information is released methodically and it generates a significant amount of tension. Navy vet Howard is a survivalist and clearly a little deranged, but could he be telling the truth? A third person, Emmett (John Gallagher, JR.), claims he saw a huge flash of light, like nothing he’s ever seen before, and went straight to Howard’s because he helped build the shelter and knew it would be safe. There’s also the question of what exactly is causing the occasional loud noises from above if the world ended.
Michelle is in an impossible situation. It’s hard to know if it’s safer in the shelter or if it’s worth trying to escape. 10 Cloverfield Lane exploits her predicament expertly and provides a few intense and suspenseful moments as she ponders her next move. The three leads are tremendous, especially Goodman and Winstead. Goodman plays Howard as a little off, but he doesn’t overdo it. Howard is almost eerily serene, unless you do something he doesn’t like. Winstead creates an extremely sympathetic character quickly. The tension is there in large part because you care about Michelle’s fate.
Everyone knows this is all building to something. We just don’t know what. Without giving anything away or even hinting at it, let’s just say that the reaction is something along the lines of “OK yeah that’s basically what I was expecting, and that’s it?” The inevitable reveal just can’t compete with all the hype and the stellar set up. The anticipation is much better than the payoff, and you can’t help but feel like the movie would have worked better as The Cellar. It’s a decent flick, but all of the misdirection results in a bit of an empty feeling when the credits roll. The ride promises so much, and wow is it fun for a while, but none of the thrills are saved for the end of it. It goes out with more of a whimper than a bang.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Dan Trachtenberg
Writer(s): Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.
Release: March 11 (Wide Theatrical)
Studio/Production Co: Paramount/Bad Robot
Budget: $15 million (estimate)
Length: 105 minutes