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REVIEW — “10 Cloverfield Lane”

10 Cloverfield Lane

Thanks to its strong lead performances, taut direction, and a claustrophobic setting, 1o Cloverfield Lane is a semi-sequel that is actually better than the original. That being said, the screenwriters’ decision not to explain certain aspects of the plot are frustrating and hold this film back. Also, the final ten minutes change pace and genres in an unconvincing fashion.

Plot:

10 Cloverfield Lane revolves around a young woman who, as she runs out on her fiancée, gets into a wreck. She wakes up in a shelter with two men that assert that the outside world is unsafe due to a chemical attack.

Acting:

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There are only three main characters in this semi-sequel to Cloverfield. Yet, the performances from John Goodman (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Argo”), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Live Free or Die Hard,” “Final Destination 3”), and John Gallagher Jr. (“The Newsroom”) are all strong.

John Goodman’s performance as Howard, a man who built a bunker to protect himself from any imminent doomsday, is sensational. Because Howard is quirky, intelligent, paranoid, and manipulative, making him a believable character required a great performance. Although John Goodman generally portrays likeable characters, his work in this film manages to keep the audience as off-balance as Howard is. It should be noted that Goodman’s dancing in one scene in unforgettable and hilarious.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead portrays Michelle, a young woman who runs away from difficult situations until she is trapped in one. Winstead’s work in 10 Cloverfield Lane is among the best in her career in terms of emotiveness, curiosity, and determination. None of her work in the first hour and thirty minutes feels forced or theatrical. Rather, Winstead makes her character likeable and worth investing in emotionally.

John Gallagher Jr. portrays Emmett (not The Special from “The Lego Movie”), a simple-minded worker who wants to survive. The fact that most of this film is an efficient and suspenseful Hitchcockian thriller, yet there are several humorous moments involving Emmett is a testament to his comedic timing. He even provides a convincing dramatic performance, which makes his character more interesting and likeable.

Direction:

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Early in the film, Michelle is in a car wreck that feels so realistic that the editing team gracefully integrates a title sequence to allow the audience to briefly escape this hellacious moment. Dan Trachtenberg’s meticulous shot selection makes the audience uneasy every second that Michelle is in the car. Trachtenberg also manages to capture the disorienting and horrifying nature of car wrecks.

For the first hour and a half, Dan Trachtenberg provides enough slowly paced shots to make the swifter paced shots hard hitting and pulse-pounding. This is particularly evident in how the audience expects Howard to be behind the protagonists during scenes that he is not: This makes it surprising when Howard sneaks up behind the other characters. Most impressively, the framing of John Goodman’s Howard during his first scene makes him an imposing figure worthy of the tagline, “Monsters come in many forms.”

Setting:

10 cloverfield lane screenshot setting

Although Cloverfield featured a group of friends running through New York as a monster attacks, 10 Cloverfield Lane takes place mostly in a doomsday shelter, which is underground. Placing the characters in the doomsday shelter for most of the film helps keep the plot, pacing, and characters contained and claustrophobic. Each room throughout the doomsday bunker is distinct and intriguing. Thanks to Trachtenberg’s direction, each off-putting aspect of this setting is emphasized and utilized in order to keep the audience in suspense throughout this film. In IMAX, the setting is even more imposing and ominous.

Screenplay: Missing Pieces

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Screenwriters Josh Campbell (“Blade II”), Matthew Stuecken (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”), and Damian Chazelle (“Whiplash”) manage to  provide energetic and dynamic dialogue for each of the three primary characters throughout the vast majority of this film. However, given the plot and certain not-so-subtle hints, Howard’s intentions with Michelle are clear long before the characters figure it out.

More importantly, there are several plot points alluded to that are never dealt with. For example, the audience never gets to know Ben, who is voiced by Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”) Michelle’s fiancé or why they fought. What was Michelle arguing with him about? Another example of plot point that is alluded to but not explained is when Emmett mentions that Howard has a theory about aliens, yet there is never any elaboration about this plot point.

Final Act:

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Because the screenwriters juxtaposed most of the connections between Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane into the final ten minutes, there is not enough development or explanation to help this film transition genres and paces. While most of the first hour and a half of this film is intentionally slow-paced and suspenseful, the final ten minutes is frantic, rushed, and unconvincing. Without providing any spoilers, it is difficult to discuss everything that is wrong about the final act of this semi-sequel.

One of the main characters becomes invincible and infinitely skilled enough to survive a fall from great heights without being majorly injured. Also, the “monsters” at the end of the film are not as interesting as Howard and their presence is never fully explained. With this in mind, the final act leaves a bitter taste in the audience’s mouth after they have seen an excellent 90 minute suspense-thriller.

Conclusion:

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As a whole, the strong lead performances, taut direction from Dan Trachtenberg, and claustrophobic setting overcome the shortcomings of 10 Cloverfield Lane and make it a suspense-thriller well worth watching in theaters.

Rating: 3.5/5

10 Cloverfield Lane is PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language.

Runtime: 105 minutes.

Are you seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane in theaters or renting it?

The Breakdown

"10 Cloverfield Lane" is a semi-sequel that is actually better than the original.
3.5/5
Pros
This film benefits from its strong lead performances, taut direction, and a claustrophobic setting,
Cons
Unfortunately, not enough plot points are explained and the final act features an unconvincing shift in pace and genre.
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