10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Paramount)
Dir. Dan Trachtenberg, Script. Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Plot: Michelle (Winstead) wakes up in an unknown bunker after an incident, in which the man who saved her (Goodman) tells her the world outside has been attacked.
Believe me when I say this – for me to want to namedrop Alfred Hitchcock, the grandmaster of horror, tension and suspense, in a review, then I have to have been mightily impressed. But I’m doing it for 10 Cloverfield Lane, an incredible new sci-fi/horror that, while maybe not being the sequel to Cloverfield many fans of the first film would expect, is a brilliantly tense thrill-ride from start to finish that definitely shares a lot of the thematic DNA that Cloverfield had. Remarkably, 10 Cloverfield Lane was filmed in secret and kept that way until January, when it was revealed as its first trailer was attached to Michael Bay’s 13 Hours – the film definitely benefits from being watched as its producers have intended, without spoilers, and as such you won’t get any here.
For a sequel, or as notoriously secretive producer J.J. Abrams calls it, a ‘blood relative’, it has to be commended for its decision to actually scale down for its sequel, rather than do the obvious thing and scale up. The joy of 10 Cloverfield Lane lies in its brilliant human characters that come to life thanks to the small setting. John Goodman, known to so many as the warm voice of monster Sully in the Monsters, Inc. franchise, is absolutely stunning as a highly paranoid man who holds Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character Michelle (against her will perhaps) in his bunker, seemingly protecting her from a cataclysm above. Goodman is nuanced, insane, even likeable at times, all at once with just looks – if this was released during Oscar time, Goodman would have had a massive shot at getting nominated, and nobody would have batted an eyelid in confusion as to why it was in awards season.
But while many are saying Goodman steals the show, Winstead is equally superb, but in a subtler way – Winstead has this remarkable ability to make her characters incredibly clever, and Michelle is always one step ahead of the audience, thinking quickly and decisively. It’s massively refreshing to see a smart, strong female protagonist in a horror, as they’re nearly always dumb at the moment. You can see Michelle’s brain ticking over, her ideas coming into her head, all through Winstead – she’s one of the most underrated actresses on the planet, and its fantastic to see her headlining such a big film and giving it a fantastic shot. She’s a brilliant, completely investable lead.
That investment stems from a smart, taut and well thought out screenplay, that originally started out life as a spec script (a script on the open market) called The Cellar. It’s dialogue is not only natural, but always links back to something and pays off later down the line. It’s characters, although few, are brilliantly realized also, so that when things get uncomfortable, you’re right there with them. Claustrophobic camerawork and some wonderful production design as far as the bunker’s concerned only help 10 Cloverfield Lane be even better. As well as that, there’s a terrific, Psycho-lite score by The Walking Dead composer Bear McCreary that is unsettling from the get go.
But the star of this piece absolutely has to be director Dan Trachtenberg, making his feature film debut with a colossal bang. Trachtenberg gets every single beat on the nose; 10 Cloverfield Lane feels Hitchcockian in the best way possible (his opening shots are so Psycho its unbelievable), with remarkable suspense and tension. Trachtenberg truly makes a remarkable impact here – his visuals are insanely effective, his direction consistently unsettling, his use of foreshadowing brilliant also. Its been a while since I saw a debut film that was so well put together, and so confidently helmed – Trachtenberg is absolutely a new director to watch over the coming years.
In 10 Cloverfield Lane he’s made an absolutely brilliant horror thriller that is edge of the ledge off the edge of your seat tense, brought out terrific performances from vastly underrated actors that should put them right back in the conversation, and directed something that is without doubt worthy of a Hitchcock namedrop. Although a slightly uneven third act does jar slightly, there’s really not much wrong with Abrams’s latest mystery box of a movie (which definitely benefits a spoiler-less viewing experience), which for me is one of my absolute favourites so far this year – trust me, its a must-see.