For much of the film, the title hardly comes off as significant. The perceiver in you has a lot of questions with regard to why a psychological thriller with claustrophobic traits has been named 10 Cloverfield Lane. What is the relevance? Well, the final act provides all the answers that the viewer (who was expecting a full-blown Cloverfield sequel) has been seeking.
The movie starts on a rather tame note. We take on the perspective of Michelle (although not by way of POV like in Cloverfield) who is still undergoing post break-up trauma. Michelle is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead whose versatility has been proven with the passage of time. Her Ellen Ripley-esque role in The Thing (2011) was nothing short of tremendous. She is a perfectly bankable actor for scenes that involve high levels of tension and unpredictability. This fact is reinstated firmly by her performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Winstead is literally pitch-perfect, but we also have John Goodman (Flintstones, Argo, Flight, Hangover 3, The Artist) and John Gallagher Jr. sharing screen-space with her.
To describe the plot in a single line would sound something like this: After getting involved in a car accident, Michelle wakes up in a bunker inhabited by Howard (Goodman), who is also its creator, and Emmett (Gallagher Jr.) who pass the news to her that the outside world is unfit for living as the air is contaminated due to an attack by some unknown entity. The viewer, like Michelle, doesn’t want to buy this story and we get behind Michelle when she makes frantic attempts to escape the bunker.
Twists are carefully revealed one after another and soon we realize that things are not what they seem. Howard becomes increasingly dominant and peevish towards his bunker-mates and once certain facts are concluded, Michelle and Emmett hatch a plan to escape the bunker for good. The outcome is unexpected and thrilling. John Goodman steals the show with his enthralling performance that is almost perfectly in sync with Winstead’s. Gallagher Jr. provides the much-needed comic relief during the tensive build-up.
One question still remains. How does all this fit into a ‘Cloverfield’ movie? Answers await in the final act. After a brief scene involving a brilliantly choreographed tussle, the viewer does heave a sigh of relief, only to realize that there are bigger dangers lurking on stand-by. The last quarter hour sure has ample edge-of-the seat moments (although involving extensive use of CG) and leads to a nail-biter of a finale, somewhat reminiscent of the climax sequence in The Thing (2011); only better this time around, thanks to some diligent writing by Josh Campbell, Mathew Stuecken and more significantly Damien Chazelle (of Whiplash fame).
Fans of the original Cloverfield have reasons aplenty to be both happy and sad about 10 Cloverfield Lane. This one is not POV, the storyline deals with claustrophobic elements and isolation for most part and it is not directly connected to Drew Goddard/Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield. But where it succeeds is in creating implied tension with respect to fear of the unknown. Is the air out there really contaminated? Who was responsible for the attack? What really led them to take refuge in a bunker? Winstead and Goodman prove to be near-perfect casting choices for a film that is brilliantly written by the trio of Campbell, Stuecken and Chazelle, and masterfully directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Music by Bear McCreary, cinematography by Jeff Cutter and editing by Stefan Grube are worthy of mention. The music builds apprehension, camerawork is brisk (but not headache-inducing) especially towards the climax and the edits make sure the run-time does not exceed a decent 1 hour 40 minutes.
***1/2 out of five
Watch the trailer here: