Back in 2008, Cloverfield hypnotized audiences with its intoxicating air of mystery. The first trailer led us to believe we were seeing a comedy as it opened with a bunch of twenty-something New Yorkers throwing a surprise party. Laughs quickly turn into screams when their power goes out and explosions light up the city. The preview ends with the Statue of Liberty's head rolling down the street. By the time it was over, most viewers felt like the rug had been pulled out from under their feet. The biggest punch to the gut was the fact that the trailer didn't reveal a title.
Now there's 10 Cloverfield Lane — a film intriguing people with its title alone. Unlike the case with Cloverfield, the expectations for this movie are quite high and specific. Some people seem to be upset that it's not a more direct sequel. "I want my 10 Cloverfield dollars back," a friend quipped on Facebook.
Maybe it's not an obvious sequel, but this film certainly has the same spirit as Cloverfield, keeping viewers guessing until the last shot.
The film opens with a moment of panic. After running out on her boyfriend — and leaving an engagement ring behind, among other things — Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets into a nasty car accident. In a Twilight Zone sort of twist, she wakes up in a fallout shelter. The warden of the place, so to speak, is Howard (John Goodman), an ex-Navy officer who seems to have a screw loose, even though he insists otherwise. "I'm not crazy. What's crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come," he says.
The third person in Howard's ark is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a sweet country bumpkin who helped build the shelter. He's the opposite of Michelle in the sense that he never succeeded in running away from home. Michelle is used to fleeing from her fears, she tells him. But as the film goes on, she begins to stare them down.
The interplay between Goodman and Winstead is electrifying. When they're together (almost every scene), you can cut the tension with a knife. In some ways, they're similar characters, both driven by fear. While Michelle runs away from commitment, Howard commits to being afraid. When Emmett asks him if there's anything he wishes he had done before "the attack" that brought them down to the fallout shelter, Howard firmly says no. "I did what I wanted to do. I prepared for this," Howard says sternly.
10 Cloverfield Lane drips with dread. Making his feature film debut, director Dan Trachtenberg maintains a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere. This is a riveting little chamber drama — it's essentially a prison movie. If it were released with a different title, it would probably be praised for its striking originality. If you go into it expecting Cloverfield 2, you may be disappointed. But if you simply want a suspenseful, surprising thriller, you'll love this one.