Facing Uncertainty and Danger Underground

By Vincent Abbatecola

John Gallagher, Jr. (left), Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Goodman in “10 Cloverfield Lane” Photo Credit: Imdb.com
John Gallagher, Jr. (left), Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Goodman in “10 Cloverfield Lane”
Photo Credit: Imdb.com

Eight years ago, producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves gave audiences the found-footage monster movie, “Cloverfield.” While it seemed like the type of film that would get a sequel right away (depending on it’s success), that wasn’t quite the case. Over the years, it started to look like we wouldn’t get a sequel that would answer the first film’s lingering questions.

Now, we have a sequel that acts, as Abrams puts it, a “blood relative” of the first film. Director Dan Trachtenberg brings us the science-fiction thriller, “10 Cloverfield Lane,” a movie that elicits an unrelenting sense of dread throughout its duration and unleashes tension that will keep you rigid for its entirety.

Following an argument with her fiancé, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) moves out of her New Orleans apartment. While driving, she becomes involved in a serious car accident and is knocked unconscious. Later, she wakes up in an underground bunker, owned by doomsday preparer Howard (John Goodman). He tells her there has been a chemical attack, rendering the outside world hazardous. However, Michelle isn’t sure how much of what Howard tells her is true. She soon recruits the help of another bunker occupant, Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), to assist her in finding out what Howard is hiding from them.

Winstead shows a lot of emotion and grit when portraying the film’s resourceful heroine. She exhibits the character’s toughness and survival instincts right from the beginning of her captivity, and it’s then that we know Winstead will have a firm command of the movie, just as her character does with her plans to escape.

Goodman gives what could be one of the best performances of his career as a frighteningly unhinged end-of-the-world anticipator. He makes transitions from eery calmness to frightening anger that make his character wholly unpredictable. We believe he’s crazy, but we’re never sure how crazy, and he lets that persona build and build until it feels like he can’t handle it anymore. As the film goes on, we come to learn what he’s capable of doing in order to keep his bunker safe and orderly, making Goodman’s work in the film a truly disturbing performance that will make it feel as though a subzero chill blew through your theater.

John Gallagher, Jr. does a fine job in offering much of the film’s comic relief. But thankfully, it doesn’t become too much like the comedic character Hud in “Cloverfield,” and Gallagher is able to retain the gravity of the situation, even when delivering a few laughs.

The film abandons the shaky-camera cinematography from the original and goes with more traditional photography to tell the story. While the shaky-cam wasn’t particularly bothersome (in my opinion), it’s still a refreshing change to have a more steady camera this time around. While “Cloverfield” mostly benefits from the shaky-cam because it captures the panic of that film’s situation, a steadier camera in this movie compliments the slow burn of the story and the quieter, contained atmosphere.

The screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle takes an interesting approach to the “Cloverfield” franchise. Instead of giving us a direct sequel, we get a film that tells a completely fresh story with all new characters, each of whom has the opportunity to reveal information about themselves that speaks to the actions they take throughout the film.

The writers also do tremendous work in penning scenes that make you a nervous wreck. With Chazelle being the writer and director of the anxiety-inducing drama “Whiplash,” it isn’t a surprise “10 Cloverfield Lane” comes loaded with scenes that contain moments of near-unbearable suspense.

Similar to the first film, one of the best qualities about this movie is it doesn’t offer any clear answers to some of it’s biggest questions, and that’s part of the fun because it allows us to contemplate our own theories about the events of the story. It’s one of those films where, if you watch it again, you will surely pick up some more clues that may have you think differently about what’s going on beneath the surface (no pun intended).

Similar to Matt Reeves and “Cloverfield,” this is Trachtenberg’s first feature film as a director, and he succeeds in doing a lot with a limited cast and enclosed setting. He captures the claustrophobia that permeates throughout the film, giving us the same sense of entrapment that cloaks the characters. Trachtenberg retains the aura of mystery as the movie progresses, making us feel like there are still things being hidden from us, even if it seems like we’ve seen nearly every inch of the bunker. Just like with Reeves going on to direct acclaimed mainstream films such as “Let Me In” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” it seems like “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the beginning of a great career for Trachtenberg.

The “Cloverfield” franchise is shaping up to be a very different kind of cinematic property with its method of storytelling. If the series gets a new director, narrative, and characters for each movie, this will prevent these films from getting stale, and it will help each of them remain as mysterious as the last.

Grade: A

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