10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“10 Cloverfield Lane,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg, is an inspired spiritual sequel to an alien invasion film that was released almost a decade prior. Instead of telling a story that is bigger, louder, and with more visual effects, the focus is on three people hiding in a bunker right next to a farmhouse as a possible extraterrestrial invasion unfolds outside. It is an intimate sci-fi horror-thriller and ultimately one that works.
The picture is tethered by strong performances, particularly by John Goodman who plays a good samaritan named Howard. Goodman’s performance is at times very reminiscent of Kathy Bates in the classic horror-thriller “Misery.” Howard is a highly watchable character because in just about every scene, Goodman gives him a different body language, a strange manner of expressing his emotions, a questionable look. We constantly ask ourselves what he is up to, what he is thinking, what he is he willing to do to maintain his power and control in an impossible situation.
This makes the character difficult to decipher. There are times when we want him to be good but there are signs that he isn’t, yet there are also instances when we are convinced he is a villain but perhaps our imagination is simply playing tricks on us. We want to understand Howard and wrap our minds around his motivations. Goodman is more than up to the task of creating a curious and highly volatile character.
Credit goes to the writers, Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle, for consistently coming up with ways to engage the audience—a challenge because the majority of the film takes place in a confined living space. There is not one moment of boredom because the screenplay takes advantage of the setting to induce an increasingly paranoid feeling. One of the most shocking revelations involves our heroine taking a trip through the air ducts to reset the air filtration system.
Although the look of the film is nothing special, there is a confidence in Trachtenberg’s direction. For example, during the quieter moments, there is fluidity between the framing of a character’s face and body language. That smoothness is necessary so that we can absorb what is being expressed and confessed. During the action scenes, on the other hand, the camera moves quickly and efficiently—but never incomprehensible or headache-inducing—not so much concerned about flow or rhythm between shots but the urgency between survival and death. One gets a sense that the director has a lot of fresh ideas and energy.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” has the desire to genuinely entertain and make us feel uneasy rather than simply rehashing action sequences that do not deliver an iota of thought, creativity, or intelligence. Although some may be put off by the more overt answers during the last fifteen minutes, others, like myself, may consider it to be a moment to showcase the filmmakers’ versatility.