“I know that this isn’t the life that you prefer, and that it’s been hard for you to come down here. But I really want us to be a happy family, you and me. The mess is all taken care of, so I’ll go get dinner started,” says Howard Stambler to Michelle.
When the trailer for a new J.J. Abrams production called Valencia was released back in January, audiences were surprised when the movie’s true title turned out to be 10 Cloverfield Lane. This mystery movie boasted many of the same behind-the-scenes talent that worked on the surprise 2008 sci-fi hit Cloverfield. Many wondered if the new film was a sequel or if it even shared the same fictional universe. I love monster movies, and my favorite ones aren’t the ones with weird-looking or horrifying creatures but rather the ones where a human (or group of humans) is the true monster. Although it may be a spiritual sequel (or cousin or however you want to label it), there is no doubt that 10 Cloverfield Lane, directed by newcomer Dan Trachtenberg, is a monster movie. I recently saw Trachtenberg’s film on the big screen, and calling it an intense experience would be quite an understatement.
2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane follows a young woman who awakens inside an underground bunker after a car accident and is subsequently informed that a major attack has left the surface uninhabitable. While trying to determine if the bunker’s owner is truly her savior or captor, she hatches an escape plan and tries to make a biohazard suit utilizing what limited tools are at her disposal. Trachtenberg assembled a small ensemble that includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead (as Michelle), John Goodman (as Howard Stambler), John Gallagher Jr. (as Emmett DeWitt), Suzanne Cryer (as Leslie), and Bradley Cooper (as the voice of Ben). Winstead gives a powerful performance as a woman who is still reeling from a recent breakup and now finds herself potentially a prisoner in an underground bunker after a supposed attack above ground. She’s strong, determined, and quite resourceful as she tries to keep herself together. Goodman is both friendly and menacing as the bunker’s owner who may be paranoid and dangerous or simply misunderstood in his actions (he thankfully never goes over-the-top). Gallagher is quite good as the other “guest” in the bunker who aids Michelle with her escape plan in addition to the friendship they strike up while underground.
Trachtenberg opts for a more traditional style of filming, avoiding the found-footage style employed in Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield. The screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle (the film’s original director until he left to make the Oscar-winning Whiplash) is filled with intensity throughout and well-rounded characters (interestingly, with its small number of locations and cast members, it could actually be adapted as a stage play). Ramsey Avery’s production design gives the underground bunker an almost claustrophobic feel while above ground is filled with open spaces. Jeff Cutter’s cinematography matches the bleak tone of the film, and Stefan Grube’s editing moves the film along at a great pace. Bear McCreary delivers a suspenseful score with a memorable theme. Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane is a small, intense thriller filled with strong performances and contains a few wonderful surprises (none of which I wanted to spoil here). Check it out if you haven’t already!