D: Dan Trachtenberg. DP: Jeff Cutter. W: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle. Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead/John Goodman/John Gallagher Jr.
I will admit I am negligent when it comes to the horror genre. However, I would not classify 10 Cloverfield Lane or its tangential predecessor, 2008’s Cloverfield, as horror, more as thriller with a splash of extraterrestrial destruction sauce. Regardless of the genre debate, go and see it.
10 Cloverfield Lane is tangential to Cloverfield as it appears to be happening within the same attack on earth. So Cloverfield is set in Manhattan and this new film is set in rural Louisiana. With a nice shot of the New Orleans Crescent City Connection to open the film we aren’t given any dialogue until after Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) crashes her car en route to somewhere after leaving her fiancé. She awakens with her hurt leg chained to a wall to discover she is a bunker built by Howard (John Goodman). Nothing more, no spoilers here!
Once again yes it’s a thriller genre film (often deemed something like a B-film), but 10 Cloverfield Lane is also a piece of great scene study. With only three actors in a small-ish space the world must live and breath within its characters. Much like last year’s Room, little backstory is given so the dynamics must be played out in the trio. Trust and reveal see-saw their way into a gripping film that rarely needs to use music or effects to build suspense. Tight close-ups are well balanced and there is an excellent placement of music that builds ironic humor without camp.
Lead Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been steadily working, but she stole my heart in James Ponsoldt’s 2012 Smashed. A film about an alcoholic couple who breaks up when one partner tries to get clean. Here she is a naturally believable spunk who is a perfect balance of think on her feet smart both physically and mentality. Given that the audience has hardly any backstory on her you immediately must join her for her ride as she unravels the bunker and questions Goodman’s Howard. Goodman’s open demeanor and physical presence are never over done, a nice change from his warm loud goofs he usually plays. Emmet, played by HBO’s The Newsroom‘s John Gallagher Jr., rounds out the group really well.
The fundamental structural difference between these Cloverfield films is that the first was built on what is now termed: found footage. Shot as if the characters were filming from their own camera with breaks in story and scenes to mimic their home video experience. In Cloverfield this is effective as it gives the disaster/invasion film a new and visceral audience experience. For obvious reasons this would not work with 10 Cloverfield Lane, but also despite the name the film’s focus is rooted on human to human destruction within a “safe” environment rather than running from the big bad. Or is it?