Synopsis – After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.
My Take – Create anything and paste the name J.J. Abrams on it, I can guarantee you I will watch it by some means or another, whether a TV series or a film it does not matter. Yes! I am a J.J. Abrams fan boy! Back in 2008, riding high on the wave of the found footage genre, a film “Cloverfield” depicting a giant monster attack on New York became the talk of the town while earning about $170.8 million on a budget of $25 million. After years of speculations regarding a sequel, you can imagine my excitement when the trailer of this film came out of nowhere. The film was shot under a different title and did not receive a trailer until less than two months from its theatrical release. Because of the secrecy surrounding its production (like most Abrams productions) and the lack of details surrounding the film’s plot, the excitement to this spiritual sequel has been sky rocketing until its release. While most sequels usually go bigger & bolder (rightfully so), this film deliberately avoids using predecessor’s found-footage trappings (considering their status now), and immerses us in a classic style bottle thriller. The setting is limited and claustrophobic, and the cast small, but the story and tension will grab you and not let up until the end. The use intimate tripod filmed scenes makes the film vastly more interesting and more engaging than the chaotic shaky cam that plagued Cloverfield. It is almost a breath of fresh air to see a movie that is so thoughtfully filmed. One of the greatest things the film has to offer is that the audience really has no idea what to expect going into the film. Very much in the J.J Abrams way, the production for this film has been left completely under-wraps and the trailers have revealed next to nothing. That’s one of the benefits for the movie. The story follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who after being in a car crash, wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman), a large old conspiracy theorist veteran farmer standing above her. He tells her that she can’t leave, because some sort of disaster has happened and it’s not safe to go outside.
Finding herself alone with Howard and a young man with a broken arm Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), Michelle initially struggles to escape and fails. The moment she decides to settle in, she uncovers something horrible. The story is build up perfectly. It balances true suspense with genuine and upbeat moments. As a viewer, you’re constantly put on a wrong track or left guessing because the twists and turns the story takes are masterfully executed. This only works because the film takes its time to build them up and because you’re experiencing the story and this universe through Michelle’s eyes only. You as a viewer only know and see what Michelle knows and sees which to me personally ads more suspense than knowing something the protagonist doesn’t. One of the many things which are great about this movie is the way it always leaves you guessing. The nature of the mystery means your opinion will hang very precariously on whether you like that ending, and I suspect it will be diverse. The best word I could think of to describe this film while I was watching it was claustrophobic. For the scenes that takes place in the bunker (I’m not saying how much of the screen time that actually is) director Dan Trachtenberg creates such an intense and nervous atmosphere that you feel yourself getting antsy along with the characters. That’s because for almost the whole film, we don’t really know what’s going on. We know what John Goodman‘s character is telling us and leading us to believe, but we have no idea if that’s reliable or not. We discover things along with the characters, which is why this film is such a good build up. The trio of screenwriters (Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle, writer and director of the fantastic “Whiplash”) are smart to keep us, the audience, just as trapped as the characters in this film. We don’t know more than they do and we’re put in a position to buy or reject Howard’s simultaneously incredulous but believable story of doomsday. Visually this film is absolutely brilliant. The film looks fantastic despite the cramped environs, with great use of color and shadow and some interesting cinematography. As said, the entire film is experienced through Michelle’s perspective and the cinematography is dedicated to this perspective. The camera is always close to Michelle, looking over her shoulder or showing her in a close-up shot. The camera will only pull back when the tension subsides for a while, which is a very effective way to create this contrast. During the finale of the film, the camera pulls back in and never lets go of Michelle. The tension in this scene is therefor all the more gruesome. There are some nice designs and special effects toward the end of the film, even if they may be considered a little derivative. The score is tense and effective, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. In addition, the sound design in this film is layered and cut-throat, not so much heavy on the jump-scares or the abrupt synthesizers that work for a good jolt, but in terms of adding to such a congested area where every sound is ostensibly amplified to ear-shattering effect. The film is entirely compelling for the entirety of its run time – at no stage does it slow down or become uninteresting, and at no stage are there any predictable moments.
The film never lets you get too comfortable, but at the same time, does not skimp out on character development. The dialogue is nothing short of brilliant and keeps you on edge from start to finish, also due to fantastic execution from its cast. My praise goes straight to John Goodman. It feels like a decade since we last saw him on screen, or at least that’s what it seems, because I’m wondering to myself, where has this guy been? He’s one of the great actors. He is electrifying in this. Howard’s short temper combined with his unknown backstory, make every one of Michelle and Emmett’s encounters with Howard even more intense than the last. The best way I can describe the intensity of this movie is imagine being locked in a room that is slowly filling with smoke. At first it’s breathable, but as time goes on, your lungs begin filling with smoke, and eventually you are gasping for dear life. We never know what he’s about, why he’s so crazed, and how much he was fabricating the truth about the situation he put our main character in, but the film keeps us guessing. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives her best performance yet, and shows us a strong lead character who’s completely believable in a situation that plays out like a horrible nightmare. At first she plays a cliché, helpless heroine, she develops into much more than that. Her character arc feels natural, and her arc gives the film an emotional thread I was not expecting. You really rooted for her because she could think on her feet and made really smart choices. You knew from fairly early on that if she would figure out what was going on or how to escape if need be, she only had her wits and strength to thank. Her own personal story really resonated with me and it made her a great all-round character. John Gallagher, Jr. nails his roll perfectly and adds some much needed levity to a story that’s almost overwhelmingly claustrophobic. I wasn’t familiar with his work but I’m impressed with his performance. He was more than a comical note in this film and had his own important contribution to the story. You really do care about him and his story. On the whole, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ is well made thriller with stellar performances. It thrives on its tension and great writing by keeping you guessing throughout the whole run time. Must Watch!!
Director – Dan Trachtenberg
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 103 minutes