There’s a huge amount of mystery attached to 10 Cloverfield Lane. How does it connect to the 2008 film that shares two thirds of its this name? What are the connotations of its major mystery? Who can be trusted in this highly mysterious situation? Well, while all of these are pretty notable questions to ask for such an outing, most of them aren’t central to the film’s effectiveness. The only one that does is the latter, which thrusts us into the an essential element to the original Cloverfield: consistent tension. 10 Cloverfield Lane operates on the essential stream of consciousness narrative that breeds forehead sweating fear of characters clashing in a contained space that filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock exploited to gorgeous effect.
That tight space shows off the flourishes in detail for the set design. Every nook and cranny is filled with telling aspects of John Goodman‘s character, which are equal parts terrifying and intriguing. His character has this phenomenal veil of mystery that producer J.J. Abrams prides himself on keeping with his productions, as you’re never quite sure where Goodman stands at any particular moment. The performance obviously lends a lot to this, allowing Goodman to slip from the lovable blue collar father figure we loved from Roseanne slip into the unpredictable madness of the man we grew to fear in Barton Fink. For that reason, Mary Elizabeth Winstead serves as a refreshing counter to his mystery, constantly using her expressive wide eyes to get across the frantic pace at which her mind is calculating a way to figure out what exactly is going on both outside and in this bunker. She continuously uses her problem solving skills to get out of dense situations, yet has a very believable human character flaw that constantly keeps the audience connected to her as a human being, especially in this situation.
The third presence in the form of John Gallagher Jr keeps the rather intense moments of fret and worry grounded thanks to his warmth & humor. He, Winstead and Goodman form this unconventional family unit of sorts that illustrates 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s major theme of subverting traditional family roles that Goodman’s character constantly attempts to preserve and Winstead’s character tries to break out of. Gallagher Jr feels stuck in the middle, initially trusting of the head of the house before recognizing human doubt and quarries from Winstead that mirror children wishing to leave the nest. They’re struggling to get out of this containment that director Dan Trachtenberg constantly keeps them on the cusp of escaping from, utilizing his limited space with an impeccable sense of setting and claustrophobia. His style is expansive enough to make the audience feel like they’re in this bunker, yet still small enough to where they can’t see much hope in getting out.
Now, the big elephant in the room is how this connects to the 2008 found footage masterwork that shares its name. I won’t go into detail about how 10 Cloverfield Lane relates to that film from eight years ago, but I’ll say this much: the film isn’t what you think it is and it’s all the better for it. The major tagline that’s been used for the film is “monsters come in all sizes” and it’s incredibly appropriate. The monsters here are in a variety of forms, but their commonality is how destructive they are towards our main characters. They try to box our heroine into roles she doesn’t fit into and the challenges of her overcoming these varying adversaries as well as her own self doubt. All of this is vague, but it’s worth not having too many preconceived notions going into this one… even if the title made some of them unavoidable.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Bottles of Swamp Pop Soda