Let’s get this out of the way right now: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) is not a sequel to CLOVERFIELD (2008), arguably one of the best giant monster movies ever made. For this reason alone, this well-written, acted, and directed thriller is flawed.
It’s flawed because producer J.J. Abrams resurrected the CLOVERFIELD name, resurrected the anticipation and excitement of fans the world over of the original movie, only to put out a film with as much in common with CLOVERFIELD as THE MARTIAN (2015) has with GODZILLA. Yeah, but if you pay close attention, you’ll see that the astronaut in THE MARTIAN had a cousin who worked for the company responsible for resurrecting Godzilla. Isn’t that cool? Isn’t that a wild connection?
No, it’s not.
It’s geeky and annoying. Now, obviously, there is no connection between GODZILLA and THE MARTIAN, but the example shows the level of connection we’re talking about between CLOVERFIELD and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. It’s minuscule.
It’s also embarrassingly clear that J.J. Abrams threw in the Cloverfield name simply as a marketing ploy to attract viewers. Shame on him. Sure, you can argue otherwise, but you might just sound like Donald Trump doing it.
Other than this though, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a pretty nifty thriller.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is leaving her boyfriend. He calls her (that’s Bradley Cooper’s voice on the phone.) asking her to come back, but she’s not interested. She no sooner turns off her cell when she’s involved in a nasty car accident which leaves her unconscious.
When she awakes, she finds herself imprisoned in an underground bunker, and she assumes she’s been kidnapped. When the peculiar Howard (John Goodman) shows up and tells her that he hasn’t abducted her but rather has saved her life after the car accident, she doesn’t believe him; and when he tells her she can’t leave because outside the bunker the world she once knew doesn’t exist anymore as some unknown apocalyptic event has poisoned the air killing everyone on the surface, she thinks he’s crazy.
Even when she meets the third tenant in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who confirms Howard’s story, she’s still not convinced. But later, when Michelle tries to escape and sees a woman outside the door whose skin seems to be peeling from her face and acting crazy, it appears as if Howard has been telling the truth.
The three then set their sights on surviving, and life is good, until certain things come to light that confirm Michelle’s worst fears.
The story told in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is tight and well-written. It’s an excellent screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle. There’s an uncomfortable feeling permeating throughout this film, as you’re never quite able to feel at ease around John Goodman’s Howard.
John Goodman delivers a phenomenal performance as Howard. He’s the best part of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. Goodman is almost always good, but his performance here in this movie is extra special. He’s just “off” enough where you’re pretty sure you don’t trust him but you’re not quite convinced because the crazy things he says all seem to be true. He’s a difficult character to read, which is one of the reasons the story works so well. Should Michelle trust him? Or should she try to kill him?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is equally as good as Michelle. She is not a helpless victim at all. At first, she’s constantly trying to escape, and even later, when she more or less believes Howard, she still keeps her eyes wide open. No one is going to pull a fast one on her.
And John Gallagher, Jr. rounds out the phenomenal trio with a decent performance of his own as Emmett. At first, you’re not sure how much Emmett knows or what his intentions are, but as the story goes on, he becomes Michelle’s biggest ally.
Director Dan Trachtenberg, in his feature film directorial debut, does a nice job at the helm. He gives this film a claustrophobic feel as he puts the audience right in the middle of the action with the characters in the underground bunker.
There are plenty of suspenseful scenes as well. There’s one scene in particular where they are playing a game, and it goes from funny, to suspenseful, to back to funny again all in a matter of seconds.
Strangely, the weakest part of this movie is its ending, and it’s strange because it should have been the best part. This is where the film should have tied in with the original CLOVERFIELD, but alas, that’s not how things play out.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a tight little thriller, a stand-alone movie that would work on its own merits even without the CLOVERFIELD name in the title. Unfortunately, however, the name is in the title and the fact that is so loosely connected is a shame. It’s pretty much not connected to the earlier movie at all. Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS (2012) was more connected to the ALIEN series.
Why does this matter? Let me use another movie to make my point. Take JAWS (1975) for example. And let’s say instead of JAWS 2 (1978) the next movie in the series was called 10 JAWS LANE, and in this movie, there’s no shark, there’s no Brody, no Matt Hooper, it doesn’t take place on Amity Island, and heck it’s not even about a shark! It’s about an unknown threat that may or may not be lurking in the ocean while our characters are holed up in an underground bunker. It’s a well-made movie, but without even one reference to the events in the previous film, I think audiences would have been miffed, and they probably would have felt cheated. That’s how I felt towards 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.
All this being said, I still enjoyed 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, although it’s nowhere near as good a movie as CLOVERFIELD.
It is suspenseful, though, as it plays more like an Alfred Hitchcock movie than a horror movie. Is this bad? Not at all, but again, it works against the expectations generated by the CLOVERFIELD name.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a decent thriller, but it’s not CLOVERFIELD, nor is it related to it in any way shape or form. And when your namesake is one of the finest giant monster movies ever made, the fact that you share no connection to it, is definitely not something worth celebrating.