10 Cloverfield Lane follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) after she is wakes up in an underground bunker with an apocalyptic survivalist and another young man. It follows her confused journey to find out who she can trust, what is real, and if there is a world outside the bunker to return to.
The film’s marketing strategy alone sets the mysterious tone for the entire film. It is an expert retaliation against the blockbuster film advertising techniques of plastering their images and posters just about everywhere. This movie came out of virtually nowhere. Just like it’s predecessor Cloverfield, it was widely under advertised and seemed to simply appear after a spontaneous trailer placement preceding a Michael Bay movie. This movie fixes what Cloverfield failed spectacularly at, which is terribly handheld shaky-cam, horrible editing, ambiguous and poor dialogue. It takes a step back from the action and shows the same premise from the periphery of the same event, allowing it to actually maintain the mystery and make you care about the cast.
This film is what a thriller is supposed to be. In novels, I am a huge fan of the unreliable narrator. I like being genuinely surprised in a book or film because you are being exposed to information at the same time as the protagonist realizes it. I like this ambiguous sense of truth that keeps you guessing about who you can trust, and what you can take as an objective truth. With a plot so dependent on dialogue you have to take each character at their word. That’s what makes this movie so intriguing, you never know if anyone is telling the truth or what each character believes to be true because the only thing you have to base anything on is what they physically tell each other.
This movie does a fantastic job at creating a truly claustrophobic environment. The entire plot takes place in a bunker, which is composed of like three rooms. Claustrophobic films are so hard to pull off without a single flashback or voiceover narration, but this film nails it. It never feels boring, and the entire movie is pretty three people talking to each other and doing sneaky things. With this premise and setting, your dialogue and cinematography better be brilliant or the narration feels forced and the interactions don’t feel genuine. This film pulls it off brilliantly. The majority of the film takes place in a bunker, and the way it’s shot makes you feel just as trapped and gives you a genuine feeling of anxiety. It has a lot of expositional dialogue that feels natural because of the situation the characters find themselves in, and you don’t know how much is a lie, the truth, or possible delusions. The truth is only revealed in the last fifteen minutes and it packs one hell of punch.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of those “that girl” actresses that you see everywhere and always Google her because you recognize her from somewhere. For me it always leads to her portrayal of Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. She often falls into her go-to big eyed shocked face for every reaction shot, and she painfully reminds me of Lizzy Caplan in the first Cloverfield, but she still delivered a good performance. Still she pales in comparison to the amazing performance of John Goodman. Goodman is perfect as a villain/hero that toes the line so softly throughout the film that you genuinely don’t know which way he leans more towards until the very end. He is always unhinged and he switches from over-the-top to subtle and disturbingly calm constantly throughout the film. It’s a great and eerie performance reminiscent of Kathy Bates’ Misery character, Annie Wilkes.
This movie is expertly crafted, mixing genres and utilizing the full potential of an incredibly small cast. Their secretive marketing strategy provided an aura of mystery to the film before it was ever released, making the plot itself even more mysterious and thus more thrilling to watch unfold. The best, and possibly the only way to watch this movie is to go in completely blind. Don’t Google anything about it. Just immerse yourself in the story because it will genuinely lead you down quite the road until it just drops the ending on you out of nowhere. Which many can argue is a stupid way to end it, but I actually thought was an interesting shift. It can easily exist outside of the realm of the Cloverfield universe and still stand alone as a great thriller, but adding an extra dimension adds and interesting twist that can possibly propel a franchise.
Amy’s Recommendation: 9/10