Depending on how much you liked (or hated) Matt Reeves’ 2008 found-footage monster movie CLOVERFIELD (I hated it, almost completely because the characters set up as our heroes were just another unlikeable bunch of whiny twentysomething white folks whom I ended up wanting to see die) might affect how you approach 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. This is because it’s not a sequel or a prequel, but more, as the director described it, a “blood relative” to that earlier film.
But really, it didn’t need that connection at all, because it stands on its own capable feet as an intense, claustrophobic, suspenseful thriller. As I’m watching it, I was thinking that if Alfred Hitchcock had made one of those After the Bomb sci-fi movies from the 50s and 60s, it would have been this.
This comparison begins from the start, as we open with a five minute stretch completely without dialogue, witnessing Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, THE THING) removing an engagement ring, ignoring repeated calls from a man, and driving off through the backwoods of Louisiana, stopping for gas, and hearing reports of blackouts along the East Coast. No real exposition required. Why not? Because unlike so many others, the director, Dan Trachtenberg (in his directorial debut), knows what the f**k he’s doing. He knows to show, not tell.
Suddenly Michelle is in a car accident. After the credits (also very Hitchcockian, as is the incidental music), she awakens in a bunker, with an injury to her leg and an IV drip in her arm, chained to the wall. She immediately panics, but quickly gathers herself together and begins trying to free herself or reach her phone and other possessions nearby. Although it appears perfunctory, it’s in fact a good illustration of her character.
She’s visited by Howard (the incredible John Goodman), who cryptically explains that he’s saved her life, and that no one knows where she is or is coming to save her. After an aborted attempt to set a fire and free herself, she learns that there is someone else in this bunker with them: Emmett (John Gallagher Jr, JONAH HEX), who to her horror corroborates Howard’s story that something terrible has happened to the outside world, some sort of attack, one that includes either lethal chemical or biological agents. A view through a porthole window at some unfortunate pig corpses – and later, a woman – supports this. They should both be grateful to Howard for saving them.
You REALLY need to be grateful to Howard. He doesn’t like to be unappreciated. He’s spent a lifetime preparing for the Apocalypse, probably at the receiving end of much ridicule. Goodman plays him with an amazing intensity as well as subtlety – and yes, sympathy. And like most men who have spent most of their lives living alone, he likes things a certain way, and has certain rules.
And it’s to Goodman’s credit that he doesn’t play Howard as an overtly violent character, though that violence is always just below the surface, threatening. There’s a sequence at the dinner table early on where Michelle and Emmett are carefully bonding over jokes while trying not to trigger Howard’s wrath; I haven’t felt so uncomfortable since my last family reunion.
And though Howard never makes any moves on Michelle, it’s clear that he doesn’t like how close Michelle and Emmett might get. He has reason to be, as they need each other, as they both gradually accept that, yes, Howard saved them. But that doesn’t make him a good guy.
Because the film takes place for the most part within the small confines of the bunker, it relies heavily on the script and the performance, and fortunately, both excel. Winstead invokes the spirit of Sarah Connor as she rallies herself, using her brains to formulate a plan to escape. Gallagher Jr’s Emmett is an ordinary guy who offers comic relief to help relieve the tension in the air. But Goodman steals the show for me; his Howard is multi-layered, menacing but sympathetic, a perfectly believable and relatable character. They all are, and this is something that so many other directors and writers seem to forget.
It’s really difficult to discuss the latter half of the movie without spoilers, so I’m gonna shut up at this point, except to reiterate that 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is suspenseful without needing manipulative jump-scares, intelligently written and exceptionally acted, and will appeal to thriller, horror and science fiction fans. The trailer is below, and the film will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray release in the US from June 14.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy