Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is on the run. As 10 Cloverfield Lane begins, she's packing her bags, collecting what she can, and driving off to somewhere new. Her boyfriend (voiced by none other than Bradley Cooper) calls, begging her to come back. She won't even speak a word to him. She keeps driving. Soon enough, it's late at night, and there's a car that she can't quite shake off her tail. Next thing Michelle knows, she's in a brutal accident. Her car is decimated, and she's knocked out cold. When she wakes up, she's in an empty room. There's no cell phone signal, her leg is in a brace, and she's handcuffed to the wall. Within minutes, a large, gruff man named Howard (John Goodman) walks into the room.
I say that in a slightly joking manner, but honestly, I'd be completely fine if Cloverfield became the new Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In fact, I would be absolutely ecstatic. Give me more movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane. Give me hundreds like it. This is a film that is nearly perfect, so frightening and arresting in almost every way. It's filled with almost unbearable tension- you'll grip your armrest in fear for most of the runtime. It's directed brilliantly, with Dan Trachtenberg announcing himself as the next big thing. The script by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecker and Damien Chazelle is phenomenal, creating rich, compelling characters that you'll be invested in. In fact, I have absolutely no problem at all in saying that Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle is the best strong female protagonist since Ripley. This movie is that good. Everything about it screams sci-fi classic.
From the early goings, Trachtenberg commands control of this film. Each scene in 10 Cloverfield Lane is intense. There is an air of uneasiness that surrounds each move, each plot twist, each character decision. It's an atmosphere and a mood that is not easily shaken, and it swallows up the entire film. Which is a good thing. Trachtenberg abandons the found footage style of Matt Reeves' (highly overrated) Cloverfield in favor of steady, engrossing camera work that sucks you into the film. The film is both claustrophobic and expansive, nostalgic in its 1950's B-movie style and equipped with a modern look. Trachtenberg is a master of composition and direction- the way he combines Jeff Cutter's sparkling cinematography, the cryptic script and Bear McCreary's powerful score is wonderful, and the performances he gets out of his actors are mesmerizing. Don't forget his name. We'll be hearing about him for a long, long time.
Beyond Winstead's gritty performance, the rest of the cast is equally impressive. Goodman's Howard is fascinating and horrifying, performed with a wild explosiveness by the iconic actor. Howard can be set off by even the smallest thing, and it's that sense of unpredictability that keeps 10 Cloverfield Lane interesting for its entire runtime. There are times where Howard, especially towards the beginning, seems a little too crazy for his own good. It reminded me of Stephen King's comment that Kubrick's version of The Shining didn't work because Jack Nicholson's Torrance was already crazy at the start of the movie. And yet, Goodman's portrayal is so nuanced and complex that Howard is never quite defined by his surface-level actions. Some have been petitioning for an Oscar campaign for the actor, and I would be completely on board with that. He's truly terrifying in this role. Finally, John Gallagher Jr. is great as Emmett, bringing a sweetness and humanity to the whole bloody affair. He rounds out a perfectly balanced trio of performances.
For now, fans and critics will debate 10 Cloverfield Lane over its connection to a larger universe, its implications in the overall scheme of Hollywood, and its box office results. After all, this was the kind of experiment that we hadn't really seen before in the world of complex marketing and target demographics. But in a decade, this film will be hailed as a classic sci-fi thriller. Announcing the stunning directorial talent of Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane blends unforgettable performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman with spectacular B-movie thrills for one of the first true gems of 2016. Delivering on every level, this one is a knockout.
Hollywood- more movies like this, please.
THE FINAL GRADE: A (9.5/10)
Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Guardian, Telegraph, Joblo