10 Cloverfield Lane: A Claustrophobic Masterpiece

Ben Atwater

The 2008 film Cloverfield became a cult phenomenon upon its release. Inspired by the Godzilla films, Cloverfield was about a giant monster that attacks Manhattan. Told from the perspective of a group of friends the night of a going away party, Cloverfield was filmed in the style of found footage. This style has been seen in other films such as Diary of the Dead and Quarantine, yet in the past few years has the style has been exploited and now just plays off as a gimmick more than and art style. However, Cloverfield was done quite tastefully, with real and likable characters, as well as excellent visual effects for the monster. After its release, many speculated about a Cloverfield sequel. Producer JJ Abrams, who loves to tease fans of his films with Easter eggs and hints, dropped limited information for seven years. Then, out of nowhere, January saw the release of a trailer for an upcoming film 10 Cloverfield Lane. With marketing that gave away almost nothing about the film, 10 Cloverfield Lane became one of the most talked about films in the weeks leading up to release.

Knowing nothing about the premise, 10 Cloverfield Lane turned out to be one of the best sci-fi films in years. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, an office worker fleeing the stresses of daily life.

In an opening car drive reminiscent of Janet Leigh’s stroll through the country in Psycho, Michelle is hit by a driver and becomes unconscious. Michelle wakes up chained in a cellar. Soon, her host Howard (played by John Goodman), greets Michelle, and explains that the outside world has been devastated by an attack that has left the air toxic, and that if Michelle leaves the shelter she will die. Also in the shelter is Emmett, played by Broadway star John Gallagher Jr.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman in a scene from 10 Cloverfield Lane, in theaters now  (AP photo)
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman in a scene from 10 Cloverfield Lane, in theaters now
(AP photo)

Howard’s compound is stocked with plenty of necessities, as well as outfitted with an entire air filtration system so as to hold back the toxic air inside. As the plot thickens, Michelle and Emmett start to believe that perhaps Howard is not being honest with them about the state of the world above them. Yet at the same time, evidence is shown that does lend way to Howard’s preaching of the apocalypse. This creates an incredibly immersing experience, as the viewer is figuring things out at the same time as Michelle. As the film goes on, situations become tense as the trio lives beneath the ground for longer and longer. As stakes are raised, the final act of the film escalates to a conclusion that is the epitome of the first two thirds of the film.

10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent sci-fi thriller. Filmed within the close walls of the bunker, viewing the film in IMAX really brings one into the film and the intimate situation. The tense development of plot between three characters in an enclosed space evokes last year’s Ex Machina. For a budget of $15 million, the cinematography is excellent, as are the visual effects.

Special note should be given to director Dan Trachtenberg, who has put out nothing short of a masterpiece in his directorial debut. What Trachtenberg really exceeds at is bringing out the best in his actors. Goodman has come a long way from playing Fred Flintstone, and Winstead will undoubtedly rise to stardom after her exposure.

Yet one caveat: the connection to the original Cloverfield is not exactly so clear. While the film could fit into the Cloverfield canon, the connection is very loose and is more thematic than narrative. Superior to Cloverfield as a film in every way, 10 Cloverfield Lane is worth full price, and may even merit a second viewing.