10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) by Dan Trachtenberg
Review by Andrew Swafford
Two quick things, for the record:
(1) I have been careful not to give too much away in this review--you should go in as cold as possible in terms of plot details.
(2) This thing has very little connection to the original CLOVERFIELD (the name is probably only a marketing tactic to get people to see the film) and you definitely don't need to have seen the first one before you go see this. Which, again...you should...
10 Cloverfield Lane is a tightly written, performed, and contained monster movie that uses the modern phenomenon of doomsday prepping as its primary subject, but is really all about communicating the experience of living under the roof of an abusive parent. The film communicates primarily through visuals, as demonstrated by the near-wordless opening 15 minutes or so, and maintains a tight grip on the audience's nerves and allegiances for the entire runtime of the film, utilizing a unique sense of space and character blocking to make you feel alternatingly trapped and at peace, spiteful and appreciative. The film has Hitchcockian skill at knowing just how much to squeeze its audience before letting them find relief, as well as juxtaposing scenes of calm domesticity with traumatic imagery for a huge payoff that works both in terms of thematics and spectacle.
The film is balanced by two great performances by (A) Mary Elizabeth Winstead on the one hand, whose sharp resourcefulness elevates her to the status of Lieutenant Ripley by the end of the film; and (B) John Goodman, whose acting is based on his intimidating physicality* as well as a unique vocal inflection that communicates a lot of unspoken depth to his character. If it weren't for these two performances, the film might not work as well as it does--but the tense direction, the purposeful dialogue, and the spare yet harrowing imagery go a long way too.
It's kind of great that a movie like 10 Cloverfield Lane was treated to such a big budget and release--it's a stellar studio effort that's equal parts crowd pleasing and artfully made, just as FURY ROAD was last year (it may not reach the dizzying heights that film did, but I love it all the same). Other comparisons to make here are to the aforementioned Alien (which has a similar protagonist and sci-fi horror elements), as well as Room (in terms of setting and its central issues) and--stay with me here--Portal 2** (mostly in how spaces are explored and the way its multilayered mystery is slowly revealed, as well as one distinct visual cue). 10 Cloverfield Lane is a really surprising, effective, and meaningful blockbuster about confinement and abuse that is much better than anybody had any reason to believe it would be.
*The last half of this AV Club review of a LOUIE episode explores the idea of male physicality in coercive/abusive scenarios really well, and I was thinking about it throughout 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE: www.avclub.com/tvclub/louie-elevator-part-6pamela-part-1-205313
**The director of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE also created a PORTAL short film in 2011, so the connection isn't too far fetched.