US | 2016 | Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Logline: Following a car accident a young woman is held captive in an underground shelter, sharing it with a two men, both of whom claim the outside has been affected by a catastrophic chemical attack.
Originating from a script titled The Cellar by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, and whipped into more interesting shape with the addition of Whiplash screenwriter Damien Chazelle, as a debut feature vehicle for director Trachtenberg 10 Cloverfield Lane is a much better movie than the producers probably thought they had on their hands when they decided to dress it up as a kind of “blood relative” sequel to the excellent found footage monster flick Cloverfield.
It’s a shame that the Cloverfield tag has been attached, because it ultimately does the movie no real favours. Fans of the original Cloverfield expecting another hapless-pretty-young-folk-on-the-run-whilst-a-behemoth-beast-runs-amok will probably be disappointed. There are some surprises to be had, but the less you know of them, the better. Hopefully you can get to see the movie before the idiots spoil the fun. And there’s a lot of fun to be had with this movie.
It’s an old-fashioned nail-biter, in the Hitchcockian/Spielbergian tradition. Essentially a three-hander, and claustrophobic to boot. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, delivering a truly superb performance, plays Michelle, a woman escaping her married woes. She is sideswiped on a dark country road, far from the city, but manages to survive a nasty crash. She regains consciousness inside a bunker. Soon enough she’s introduced to her captor, a hulking embittered man called Howard (John Goodman), and his “Igor”, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a lost soul. Seems they’ll all be underground for quite some time, as Howard insists the world above ground has been polluted from some kind of invasion, and Emmett backs the story up.
As Michelle attempts to find out the truth, the the screw of suspense tightens, and the tension rises. Emmett leans in closer to Michelle, as Howard squints from across the table, and strange sounds echo from Howard’s farmland above. Just what exactly has happened? And just what is Howard’s real agenda?
The first two-thirds of the movie unfold with Michelle getting to grips with her captivity and trying to cope with the preposterous notion of a possibly scorched, contaminated earth that only one night ago was perfectly fine. But if Michelle had listened more closely to her car radio on the route out of the city in the movie’s first ten minutes she’d have heard that major blackouts were affecting parts of the country. Something not right was definitely afoot.
The final third - the last quarter even - of the movie shifts dramatically into an extended and thoroughly unnerving action set-piece, with a frayed denouement that harks back to the grim and mysterious allure of classic late 60s and 70s thrillers. At first it feels as if we’ve been thrown headlong into an entirely different movie, but the overall tone, mood, atmosphere of the movie is consistent, and the refreshingly nihilistic psychology, with a hint of hope, provides the movie with serious genre weight, not forgetting terrific periodic injections of wry humour.
Trachtenberg has crafted an excellent old-fashioned thriller. See it on the big screen, before the twists and surprises are spoiled. If that’s at all possible in this harsh and unforgiving social media-saturated climate.