Back in the Winter of 2008 and little movie called 'Cloverfield' was released after teasing itself out over a year with a pretty deep-running viral marketing campaign and ARG (alternate reality game) that engaged audiences in a way that movies never do. This marketing campaigned weaved together a story that would play into the events of the movie and expanded the world building beyond its runtime. Fast forward eight years exactly and a trailer is released in January for a movie called '10 Cloverfield Lane'. Boom! This one came completely out of nowhere but still followed in its predecessor's footsteps, although in a much more compressed timeframe. Instead of having a full twelve months to tease out the release, Paramount and Bad Robot chose to do this in three months. This never happens. An unknown release is teased just 90 days out, ties into a somewhat secretive cult film from eight years ago, stars the dad from Roseanne and is being directed by a first-timer. Inspired. So, how does Dan Trachtenberg's directorial-debut turn out? Read on folks...
'10 Cloverfield Lane' follows the story of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up after being involved in a car crash in Howard's (John Goodman) bunker with another gentleman named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr,). Howard is an unsettling individual and Michelle has to decide if he is telling the truth when he tells her that the rest of the world is likely dead after an attack of some sort. Michelle and Emmett struggle with the idea that the world as they knew it may be completely gone while trying to get a grasp on the type of man that Howard is.
From the jump, Trachtenberg shows confidence in his ability to establish tone and mood with the opening of 'Lane' playing out as silent short film of sorts. This gives us some insight into who Michelle is as a character and leads us right into the main thrust of this story with the car accident. From here, the tone moves with a fluidity and poise that should come from someone with much more experience behind the camera. To call this movie tense would be an understatement. The entire theater I saw this with was silent and white-knuckled throughout as the unsettling nature of Howard escapes from the screen and moves through the audience throughout. While Trachtenberg gives you very few moments of reprieve, he times these magnificently as there are a couple of scenes where the trio within the bunker are getting along as we see a montage of smiles and puzzle pieces before jumping right back into the thickness of the tension head first.
Goodman, Winstead and Gallagher Jr. all deliver necessary performances that are ordered the same in impressiveness. Gallagher Jr's Emmett provides some of the needed comic relief and does a nice job sliding from believer to skeptic throughout the runtime. He is bested by Winstead's Michelle who bounces from terrified to charming to agressive effortlessly. The range she reaches is impressive throughout while completely selling the audience on how terrified she is and then turning that around and winning you over just as easily as she does Howard with her girlish charm that drops his guard in a way that Emmett could never achieve. Both of these actors are trumped completely however by Goodman who is completely unrecognizable in this role.
I haven't enjoyed watching John Goodman this much since 'The Big Lebowski' and he honestly probably hasn't been this good since 'Barton Fink'. Terrifying, creepy, unsettling, and off are all words that could describe Goodman's Howard but those aren't enough. The combination of Goodman and Trachtenberg results in a character that can both have you believing his rants about the lack of breathable air outside of the bunker and make you sympathize with the characters who don't believe him. From his posture to the cadence of his voice, Goodman inhabits Howard in every way and you will have all of the goosebumps during this movie thanks to him.
'10 Cloverfield Lane' doesn't fail in any way but it's success isn't static across the board. The connections to 'Cloverfield' that were brought in by J. J. Abrams are the weakest part of this movie. This was originally scripted as a claustrophobic thriller and nothing more. It was much later on that this was decided to be altered into what is now called a "blood relative" to 'Cloverfield'. I only say this is the weakest part because the vast majority of audience members will not have participated in the ARG for this or the original film and will not be in the know as far as connections are concerned. Without this knowledge I could see the bits that are here coming across as confusing. It's tough to talk about without spoilers so I will say that the 'Cloverfield' monster never shows up. This isn't that type of movie but the threads are there. Just go see for yourself.
This movie is a must-see for anyone who can appreciate a good thriller. Mega-fans of 'Cloverfield' will love this but folks who haven't seen the first one won't be alienated either. From the mood to tone to performances to the way that Trachtenberg uses the camera to accentuate all of these while utilizing his small space brilliantly, '10 Cloverfield Lane' is fantastic throughout and I can't wait to see what this director does next. Get your butts off the couch and catch this one in theaters.