By Jack Dignan
It's the sequel nobody knew existed. 10 Cloverfield Lane is the "blood relative" of 2008's Cloverfield, a found footage monster movie that's a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Nothing was announced of this sequel until this January, where producer J.J. Abrams, a man known for his secrecy, released the first trailer. It was a shock to all, and the marketing worked. During the press screening I attended for this film, nobody seemed to know what they were about to watch. I could hear questions being asked amongst friends everywhere, speculation growing. None of us had any idea what this film was even about, and that is the ideal conditions for this movie. Do your best to avoid spoilers and footage. Watch the film and be immersed. It's worth it.
Before the screening for this film started, a presenter came up on stage, like always, and introduced the movie. This time, however, they made sure we knew not to spoil a thing, and really accentuated how secretive this project was. We weren't permitted to spoil a thing, and while the film has now been released publicly, I am still going to follow through with this promise. But essentially, the film follows the story of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who's in a car accident and taken into an underground shelter by a mysterious man named Howard (John Goodman) and Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.). The two insist that the outside world has fallen into chaos, the air completely unbreathable, but as the poster states, monsters come in many forms.
While the first Cloverfield is an effective monster movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a character driven thriller, and it works oh so very well. The film revolves around these three characters hiding out in a bunker underground, and it makes for one of the most suspenseful movies in history. Not being a direct sequel to the first film works in this film's favour, allowing for new characters, a new scenario and an excellent execution. None of the characters are entirely trustworthy, their motives never fully explained, and as shit hits the fan, I experienced, for the first time in my life, the sensation of nail biting. A film has never physically made me bite my nails until now.
Since it's really just about these three characters, the film relies on their performances, especially since the screenplay by Damien Chazelle, Matthew Stuecken and Josh Campbell is already utterly brilliant. Do we get good performances though? Oh, we get good performances alright. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is sensational, but it's really John Goodman who kills it in this movie, giving what I would easily consider one of his best performances to date. His character is dark and unknown, but layered with a twisted sense of humour, and Goodman brings out the best of both worlds, giving a performance that's both chilling and sympathetic.
Before going into this film, I didn't even really know what it was about, let alone how much of a connection it has to the first Cloverfield. Because of this, the film had me guessing right up until its anticlimactic finale, but more on that later. I've said it already, but you really need to understand. Please go into this movie knowing as little as possible. It not only works in the film's favour, but it allows you, as an audience member, to experience the twists and turns for yourself. There's a point in this film about twenty minutes in, you'll know it when you see it, where I came to the realisation that I had absolutely no idea where this film was going, and that was a very, very good thing.
As for first time director Dan Trachtenberg, he's making it seem that 2016 is really the year for first time directors. First, we had Deadpool, which is currently my favourite film of the year, and now we have 10 Cloverfield Lane, an exceptionally well made thriller that Trachtenberg nails. His directing in this movie is seriously on point, the camera work utterly brilliant and the score more effective than I expected it to be. He understands what this film is and how to get it to work, and he does so. If we see more of him in the near future, I certainly won't be complaining.
The disappointing thing about 10 Cloverfield Lane is that, for a long period of time, this was nearly a 5 star movie. It was a very high 4 and a half star movie, which could've been pushed up to 5 stars if it was trimmed down ever so slightly. Then the ending happens, and the film just goes downhill fast. The ending is jarring and unexpected, and I won't go into spoilers, but it feels like a different film all together. The final 25 minutes of this film had me wanting to like it, but I just.... couldn't, and don't even get me started on the very final scene of the movie because I hate it with a passion. I've been yelling about it for the past 24 hours. Ask anyone I know. Or my neighbours. They probably heard me too.
To sum up, 10 Cloverfield Lane is four fifths of a great movie, full of suspense, sophisticated characters, solid direction and great performances, including an absolutely chilling one from John Goodman. Then the rest of the film happens, and I can't even explain how bad it is without spoilers. It's just.... no, no.
3 1/2 Stars