Dan Trachtenberg’s debut film is an abundance of intensity and atmosphere in this close quarters survival picture.
Waking up in an underground bunker with no recollection as to how you got there would be bad enough, throw in two strangers and maybe the end of the world and you have yourself a veritable nightmare.Deciding to take some time off from her boyfriend, Michelle played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, jumps in her car and tries to drive as far away from her problems as she can. Her plan gets abruptly cut short when her car spins off the road. Confused, and probably concussed, Michelle wakes up in what appears to be a cell with her wounds tended to. It transpires that Howard (John Goodman) rescued Michelle and brought her to the safety of his underground bomb shelter where he and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) have been living. Howard explains to his patient that the world above is no longer safe that there is some kind of biological or chemical weapon in use which is extremely harmful. The safest place to be is down here in his fully functional bomb shelter, Howard tells Michelle as he walks her through a tour of her new home.There's a working kitchen, over a year's supply of food and a cosy area with a jukebox and board games, Michelle even has her own room complete with a door. That's more than Emmett has, who sleeps behind the storage shelves in the pantry area. But it’s not long before suspicions and tensions start to rise between the three of them cooped up down there. Is Howard telling the truth about the world outside or is he just a lonely, crazy conspiracy theorist desperate for friends? And just how did Emmett hurt his arm? As the plot progresses the narrative veers sharply between the odd family dynamics (the scene at the dinner table is incredibly intense) that the three characters have created for themselves and how being tucked away and secluded from the rest of the world starts to take on a more sinister vibe and distrust begins to weave it’s way into each of them.
10 Cloverfield Lane is the first feature film Dan Trachtenberg has made and demonstrates his unquestionable capability and skill at directing, especially in terms of giving the impression of an extremely tight confined space. Paying extremely close attention to detail from the very beginning ensuring that every shot counts, Trachtenberg doesn’t waste a single second of screen time. Using primarily medium and close up shots of the three main characters, Trachtenberg really manages to instil a sense of claustrophobia and intimacy throughout the entirety of film when they are inside the bunker. This is only intensified by the overhead wide open shots of Michelle’s car as she drives through the countryside right before her crash.
Kudos must be given for the directing of Winstead, Goodman and Gallagher Jr. who all make excellent use of the space and occupy the frame on screen perfectly. Bear McCreary, who did the music ensures that there is a constant underlying threat emanating through the whole score. When the music drops to a distant hum in the background it’s just audible enough that it continually feels as though something awful is going to happen. Written by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken who both wrote the story and screenplay along with Damien Chazelle, the story unfolds at a fairly slow pace, but don’t let that fool you or lure you into a false sense of security, it only makes those explosive moments all the more intense.
You never know quite who to trust or whose side you're on.
Goodman is absolutely amazing in this film, no surprise there though. Howard is a huge departure from his usual type of role but he still has an element of humour about him amongst the focused and straight down the line nature of Howard’s character. Having spent time in the navy, Howard is a dab hand at the whole survival thing and talks with such authority and knowledge that it would be hard not to hang on his every last word. But behind his survival guide schtick lingers something darker and creepier. With such an overpowering stature and a frame not to be reckoned with, Howard remains the boss who holds the keys to surviving. Howard’s presence is felt throughout the whole bunker which contributes to his menacing demeanour as though he’s watching every single move Emmett and Michelle make.
I love Winstead’s character in this film. Not falling into a predictable weak, incapable, or victimised female role, Michelle has a brain, and low and behold she actually uses it! You can almost see the cogs turning in her brain as she concocts various plans and strategies in her head. She’s certain there is more to what’s happening than Howard is letting on and she is dead set on finding it out for herself. John Gallagher Jr.’s Emmett is on the surface a sweet character but like Howard and Michelle, there is more to him than what’s on the surface. Befriending Michelle and taking her under his wing Emmett and Michelle form a friendship, but to who’s benefit?
10 Cloverfield Lane is a wonderfully intricate film that will keep you on your toes and have you thinking about it well after you’ve left the cinema. It’s not essential to watch the original 2008 Cloverfield before seeing this as, in my opinion, 10 Cloverfield Lane could easily stand on its own and even more so considering it was based on a script separate from the J.J Abrams produced Cloverfield. With plenty of twists and turns that you may or may not expect; it’s the unexpected that will linger in your mind. Full of suspense, this slow burner is a real treat. I would have scored it an 8 - but for me the ending let it down slightly and felt almost like an afterthought. But that aside, it still remains a good film.
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