Review: ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ Is Dark And Twisted Fun

10 Cloverfield Lane rolls into theaters this weekend with 90 minutes of anticipation, trap setting, dark moments that will engross audiences, and leave you breathless at times.

10 cloverfield lane

J.J. Abrams describes 10 Cloverfield Lane as something very different from Cloverfield. For spoiler sake, let’s just say it’s is a blood relative of Cloverfield. The setup for the film is very straightforward. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has an argument with her fiancé and decides that it is time to move on. She packs up her things and drives off into the night sky. While driving late at night, something catastrophic occurs.

No worries, this will stay relatively spoiler free. The less you know, the better.

Michelle awakens, injured, and shackled in a windowless concrete room. She is a prisoner of Howard (John Goodman), an unhinged survivalist who would argue he’s just fine. He saves her life by bringing her to a bunker beneath his farmhouse, after some attack (chemical? Alien? Biological?). Howard sounds like a complete lunatic, but we start to wonder if he’s right. 10 Cloverfield Lane is fantastic at taking what information we do have in the film and allowing us to experience it through the characters. Howard has his moments where it seems he’s lucid and truly is doing right by Michelle and Emmit (John Gallagher Jr.), a willing lodger who helped build the bunker. Then in the blink of a nanosecond, Howard will snap into a psychotic rage.

In the current climate that we live where movie studios are constantly rebooting and rehashing old ideas, then inundating us with clips and trailers, seeing a film like 10 Cloverfield Lane is such a breath of fresh air, from its sneaky marketing campaign to the result on screen.

The “freshness” of this movie is a result of the stellar writing from Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle. Every line has a purpose, is rich with detail on just about every level, and makes the catastrophic circumstances deeply personal to all involved. Director Dan Trachtenberg shoots the picture (his first feature) with such precision, artistry, and imagination.

Skill and precision were crucial here, as this is a chamber film, taking place primarily in four rooms. Trachtenberg uses wide lenses and, almost unnoticeably, scans this claustrophobic setting, keeping the viewer’s eyes working consistently. It’s an interesting and subtle technique. His use of light and shadow emphasizes moods at all the right moments, enhancing dread, and even playing tricks on the audience.

Winstead’s interpretation of her character is marvelous. She runs a gamut of emotions from happiness to horror. No one ever questions the authenticity of her performance. Here we are, front and center, to see Michelle’s world crumble, and Winstead pushes that pain through the screen.

But the story of this film will be the performance of John Goodman. Goodman is in control of every one of his scenes. One moment he is a towering inferno of terror, the next he’s a teddy bear. Goodman’s ability to turn his emotions on a dime is what makes the film soar. Just as he pulls us in, he terrifies us.

There is nothing more satisfying than walking into a movie theater and having your expectations subverted. Unpredictability has indeed been missing in recent years in film, and seeing it come back in 10 Cloverfield Lane is a pleasant surprise.

10 Cloverfield Lane

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

Screenplay: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle

Rating: PG-13; brief strong profanity and violence, disturbing images

Running time: 108 min.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.