"Do not tell anyone", the single most optimistic phrase any film director can say except possibly, "Do we have to use Jai Courtney?". In the age of information, secrecy is an ideal being lost like tears in rain and credibility in the pop charts. Yet every now and then, someone surprises by actually achieving it: by keeping all lips zipped and delivering something you can enjoy without an anti-spoiler Internet blackout. For many years, the king of keeping cards close to your chest has been JJ Abrams (and a lot of Star Wars fans are grateful for that), and ealier this year, he pulled his greatest ever act of concealment by dropping the trailer for an unknown Cloverfield movie (previous listed as The Cellar that would be released merely 2 months later! Now, that film is upon us as a testament to value of secrecy but more importantly downright good entertainment.
After a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, The Thing) wakes up in the underground bunker of Howard (John Goodman - The Big Lebowski, Trumbo) along with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr. - Short Trem 12, the Newsroom) to be told an attack has contaminated the air above preventing them from leaving. Yet as time passes, the bunker doesn't seem as safe as she's been lead to believe.
Now, the important thing to know right of the bat is that this film has absolutely nothing to do with the original 2008 film. It may well take place in the same world but there is no connection to New York's monster attack, and you are much better off going in knowing that. It's been christened a spiritual sequel and in that respect, it most certainly is. Like the first Cloverfield, it's a film that holds it's mystery very well as we follow the story from Michelle's perspective, being told a rather unbelievable truth without any form of proof and naturally being sceptical and distrusting. We learn and believe everything as she does making this a film that's very easy to immerse yourself in. Despite the shaky camera perspective being dropped (to few complaints), the confinement of the location sustains a similarly claustrophobic feel to the handheld lens. The biggest difference is while the original film was a disaster story, this is most certainly a thriller and in that respect, it excels. There's an excellent balance and flow to its narrative as it transitions from bigger shock moments and twists to quieter sections in between. In fact, "shock" doesn't do things justice, at several points, the film achieves a level of sensory electrocution that will have you convulsing in your seat as if you've just heard Bill Cosby cast as the new Green Lantern. At times, the tension is utterly gripping from Michelle's Saw franchise like awakening to the still awkwardness of Howard's socially impaired mood swings. There's some great misdirection and reveals yet it still finds many lighter moments out the life serial nature of the trio's existence (sadly, the Canibal Airlines VHS is a fake movie).
This firm salute goes out to Dan Trachtenberg in delivering a directorial debut worth taking note of. His opening style of mute storytelling is bold yet hugely effective as we're made to wait for Michelle's first line. Then, he manages to take one of the most likeable actors of a generation, big cuddly John Goodman and make him into a monster! A narcissistic control freak prone to fearful over-reaction at any moment. Combine that with his physically imposing stature and the existing injuries sustained by Michelle and Emmett places them at the whims of his authority. It completely sells the idea of perceived safety, leading to questioning whether Howard is in fact more dangerous that whatever is or isn't outside provides the ideal motive for attempt an exit strategy.
Now, the most divisive factor of the film will be the ending (personally, I wasn't crazy about it). To some, liking it or not will be a deal breaker on enjoying the film but thankfully, most should find complete the opposite. Without sounding a spoiler siren, the ending is so vastly different to the rest of the film that in many ways, it feels like a completely different film in itself and the two can be viewed and appreciated in isolation. Despite much of the main content building up to the idea of escaping and discovering the truth, none of the thriller elements along the way are dependent on the outcome of that. It must also be given credit for its follow through. 10 Cloverfield Lane raises a lot of questions but ultimately delivers a lot of answers too. Now although Goodman steals his every scene it's Winstead's performance that carries the fate of the film on her shoulders in the audiences ability to invest in her. On that, she absolutely delivers. She makes Michelle seem a believable balance of strength and vulnerability. While ideas like chemical weapon attacks and aliens are thrown around for the fate of the outside world, she keeps the film grounded by reacting to it just as many watching would. Then as for Goodman, he gives us a level of creepiness we've never seen from him before, and he is worth the price of admission alone. The closer you look, the more there is to appreciate like his ticks of physicality while holding back from lashing out at the other two. Gallagher is the weakest leg of the tripod. He's enjoyable in his contrast to other two but his performance itself contributes much less to the film than that of his co-stars. Blink and you'll miss a voice cameo by Bradley Cooper on the other end of Michelle's phone.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a high quality thrilling and rewarding viewing experience. It's a film that's very approachable to more casual science fiction fans as its bulk is more character-driven drama. Abrams has hinted that he has big plans for the Cloverfield franchise. Thanks to this detoured return that is suddenly feeling like a very good thing.