10 Cloverfield Lane is a worthy and, in many ways, superior successor to its spiritual predecessor, Cloverfield. Replete with fine performances, solid character development and a simmering tension that gets its due in a few exquisitely spine-freezing moments, the film isn’t anything groundbreaking. But it’s not trying to be.
The story has three players: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., and John Goodman, the last of whom might deserve Oscar consideration come awards season. He perfectly plays a man awash in ambiguity: ambiguity of mental state, ambiguity of moral inclinations, ambiguity of personal history. His character, Howard, therein provides the main platform for all of the questions that drive the film’s plot: What is this bunker that Michelle (Winstead) finds herself in? What is Howard’s relationship with Emmett (Gallagher Jr.)? Is there actually an apocalypse happening just feet above their heads? Who is this Megan that Howard keeps mentioning?
A film like this is dependent on achieving a deliberate, pitch-perfect pacing. And novice director Dan Trachtenburg’s slow burn approach to answering the above questions does just that. The mystery uncoils from scene-to-scene, using each answer to the last question as the foundation to answering the next. And despite its modest length (100 minutes), the film finds time to infuse breath and lyricism, moments of quiet reflection that add to both the uneasy atmosphere of claustrophobia that pervades the picture and the growth of the few characters it boasts.
Technically, the film is superb. The camerawork, editing, score and so on all contribute to the above-mentioned qualities that are so key in a film like this, where there is really one location. The talent behind this camera is clear from the get-go.
The climax does provide a satisfying-enough answer to the main rub of the movie, though I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped for a bit more. And it’s also not quite clear whether this film inhabits the same universe as the first Cloverfield, though I’m inclined to say that it isn’t.
But more than anything, this film is worth seeing because of the near-sliceable tension that runs thick in every frame during the 85% of the picture that takes place in the bunker. And for that alone, though it’s not the only attraction, I can definitively recommend it.