10 Cloverfield Lane
“Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come”
For some reason or other, Dan Trachtenberg is a director who’s name has been familiar to me. Considering this is his first feature length film and I haven’t seen any of his short films, I have absolutely no idea why his name rings a bell. That aside, Trachtenberg is a name that won’t be going away any time soon after this impressively handled debut that follows on (loosely) from Matt Reeves and J.J. Abrams’ 2008, found-footage horror film, Cloverfield.
After a near fatal car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens in an underground cellar with Howard (John Goodman) who brings her meals and nurses her wounds. Howard proceeds to tell her that he saved her from an apocalyptical event and that the outside world has come under attack. With no evidence to suggest so, Michelle is left questioning whether Howard is actually her saviour or her captor.
Having just recently viewed Mojave in the hope that I could have been approaching a tense, low-key thriller, I was left sorely disappointed. Sometimes the mood takes where you just want to be on the edge of your seat and 10 Cloverfield Lane is exactly the type of film that delivers that tension. Whether or not you’ve seen the original Cloverfield is neither here nor there as this film works in it’s own right. In fact, any prior knowledge allows only the slightest of insights – with Abrams himself describing the film as merely a “blood-relative” or “spiritual successor”.This is an altogether different beast; the found footage approach is ditched, as is the grand spectacle of events (for the most part) in favour of a more deliberate and focused affair. This, in turn, brings about an intense and claustrophobic psychological thriller. John Goodman’s volatile Howard is the man behind the construction of an underground bunker and his apocalyptic story of how the world outside has come under chemical attack is really all we’ve got to rely on and it’s this premise that has you constantly questioning events. It’s a slow drip of psychological terror but all the more effective as a result of Dan Trachtenberg having a thorough handle on the material. There are several moments of watching just three characters interact in their cramped conditions by sharing meals together and playing board games to pass the time but these events, in all their simplicity, still manage to grip like a vice. In all honesty, the least said about the plot the better but rest assured that the pacing is competently constructed with never a dull or clock watching moment and the performances of Winstead and Goodman bring the requisite intensity to make the whole thing believable. Sometimes a direct sequel to a successful film can often create expectations and despite the filmmaker’s ambitions these expectations can often lead to disappointment. However, with J.J. Abrams again overseeing the production and a promising new director in Trachtenberg, the decision to take this slight tie-in in a different direction altogether pays dividends. It could even herald the way in how an original story can be opened up to new, franchise, possibilities.Mark Walker
Trivia: The film’s life began as a script called The Cellar (which had nothing to do with the Cloverfield universe, and was at one time also known as Valencia). It was to be a project for Damien Chazelle before he left to do Whiplash and the script was then acquired by J.J. Abrams and adapted to become 10 Cloverfield Lane.