10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is not a sequel, prequel, sidequel, or any other “quel” to Cloverfield. Director Dan Trachtenberg, (whose only previous credentials were the direction of a Portal fan film,) called the film a “blood relative” of Cloverfield before his movie’s release, and Producer J.J. “Mystery Box” Abrams has since clarified that they were never meant to exist in the same universe. The current comparison is that they are as similar as one episode of The Twilight Zone to another. The title is meant to promise a weird, suspenseful, and possibly apocalyptic tale, and nothing more.
With that out of the way, let me say that I’m happy that this manipulation with the title happened, because 10 Cloverfield Lane is excellent, and deserves the success its deception has awarded it. It’s better by far than Cloverfield, whose only real standout attribute was its “found footage” gimmick. The wife (Powerwaifu) is a much more thorough consumer of horror than I, and called it the “scariest movie” she’d ever seen. While personally, 10 Cloverfield Lane is unlikely to haunt my dreams, it does tend to get under your skin in a way more fantastical horror films can’t.
John Goodman plays the film’s primary antagonist. Or does he? This uncertain distinction is the main reason for the film’s effectiveness. The danger is not overt. It’s theoretical. The primary tension comes from the protagonist trying to decide whether the potential danger she sees from Goodman is greater than the potential danger elsewhere. It feels like the kind of choices we make day to day but magnified with possible murderous outcomes.
Goodman plays his role as pseudo-antagonist conspiracy theorist “Howard” with marvelous nuance. He layers this certifiable nutbag with enough earnest empathy that it makes it impossible to completely write him off. Without this perfect balance, there is no way the film would work. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s “Michelle” is perhaps the perfect post-modern every-woman. Strong, but afraid of commitment. Intelligent, but unsure of herself. Resourceful, but struggling against oppressive, hyper-conservative, patriarchal values that infantilize and devalue her substance and agency. The characters’ accessibility allow the film’s deeper conversations about the value of surviving at any cost a thematic heft that would otherwise be lost.
There are some choices that will be controversial. That’s for sure. But I love seeing what are essentially weird, indie-budget, Twilight Zone-esque film’s getting this kind of attention and push. I love that director Dan Trachtenberg was given a shot without a feature under his belt, and that he knocked it out of the park. I love that Hollywood is surely eyeing him right now for their next big franchise films. He captured the humanity and the heart of his subject matter in a way that most auteurs would miss, and we need more of that in our big movies.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE comes highly recommended for all but the especially squeamish. In true thriller fashion, it will keep you guessing and second guessing throughout, and it’s seldom that a genre film has this much to say about humanity.