10 Cloverfield Lane is a type of movie that we just don’t see very often in modern cinema. It’s a film with a decent budget and a major production company behind it, with some serious marketing power, that still prefers to keep things simple and constrained throughout most of its runtime. With a few changes Cloverfield Lane could have easily been a stand-alone no-budget indie flick. The fact that a major studio released and marketed such an effort at all is encouraging, as it suggests that mid-budget films can still get made (and, hopefully, be successful) even in today’s entertainment business climate.
But aside from supporting the return to small character-driven entertainment and the mid-budget blockbuster, there’s a simpler reason for why you should see 10 Cloverfield Lane: it’s just damn good. The trailers have smartly kept most of the plot details under lock-and-key, and I won’t go into details much here, but the script plays with expectations wonderfully. Your suspicions of other characters shift back and forth with each new reveal, and the pacing is perfect, giving the film plenty of time to breathe without ever stalling out.
The shifting of lead character Michelle’s trust, as well as the audience’s trust, would not work as well without John Goodman’s great performance. Even in his most sympathetic scenes, there’s a dark undercurrent to the man, and at his most dangerous, there’s an underlying sadness driving his actions. Regardless of whether he’s a monster or a savior, he’s a broken human being, one whose worldview and relationships are inexorably shaped by his past. It’s one of Goodman’s best performances, which is saying a lot given how consistently strong he’s been in past works.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead acquits herself well here, too, in a very physical role. She doesn’t speak all that much, but serves as both an audience surrogate and a symbol of a woman’s potential strength in male-dominated scenarios.
On a production level, Dan Trachtenberg (of Totally Rad Show fame) puts in a tremendous effort on his first feature film. Despite the strength of the script, the movie simply would not work if the most important beats didn’t hit. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very dynamic picture, and its careful balance of quiet well-acted character moments and bigger, scarier set-pieces is attributable to Trachtenberg’s solid direction. He and his sound team also work wonders on the film’s soundtrack, with a complex and layered ambient sound to drive up tension and especially powerful punctuated sound effects in the most startling moments. Viewers owe it to themselves to see the film in theaters or on an impressive surround sound system so that they can fully appreciate the dynamic range utilized by the sound team.
If there’s a potential failing in the film, it lies with the ending. Without spoiling any specifics, I will say that after it’s Twilight-Zone-esque “reveal,” the movie continues on for some time and ends with a resolution that feels like part of a different movie altogether. On the one hand, some degree of payoff is necessary, but I can’t help but feel like something briefer, that feels like a coda to what came before rather than a mini-arc of its own, would have been more appropriate.
In any case, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a highly-effective little film that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. It hearkens back to a time when studios weren’t afraid of smart, high-concept films with less blockbuster appeal. I highly recommend going to see it with as blank a slate as possible.