You’ve got to give JJ Abrams credit – he sure knows how to sell a movie. When the trailer for this ‘spiritual sequel’ to 2008’s monster mash-up Cloverfield dropped earlier this year it took everyone by surprise. Even for a man famous for placing an air-tight seal of secrecy around his work, keeping the existence of an entire film under-wraps is a staggering achievement.
Sadly, 10 Cloverfield Lane is nowhere near as imaginative as its promotional strategy, offering up a well-crafted and outstandingly performed psychological thriller that boasts nothing you haven’t seen before – except for an arbitrary link to an unrelated film that serves no other purpose than to get more bums on seats.
You certainly shouldn’t go in expecting to see Cloverfield 2 – these films live on separate streets in terms of tone and execution, and may not even take place in the same world. What director Dan Trachtenberg has cobbled together out of a shoe-string budget is a taut three-person play that relies more on slow mounting suspense than monster smashing shock and awe.
An impressive Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays fashion designer Michelle, who dumps her fiancé and heads out on the road with a bottle of scotch to escape her emotional turmoil. Her journey is curtailed by a horrific car crash. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself chained to the walls of an underground bunker where her creepy saviour, Howard (John Goodman), tells her of an apocalyptic event that has rendered the outside world uninhabitable. But can he be trusted, or are his motives more sinister than looking for a new addition to his monopoly team?
This section of the film is superbly put together. Aside from an overbearing and unnecessary orchestral score, Trachtenberg is clinical in his direction of this claustrophobic drama, evoking shades of Hitchcock with the steadily rising suspense that builds as Michelle and fellow refugee/prisoner Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) try to work-out if Howard really is their generous saviour or a vicious lunatic with dark intentions.
Goodman is exceptional as the multi-faceted Howard, toying with both his prisoners’ and our own emotions as he shifts between misunderstood father, harmless nut-job and bad-tempered psychopath with alarming ease. Winstead is also perfectly cast as the sweet yet resourceful Michelle, who determines to escape Howard’s clutches no matter the consequences.
It’s at this point that the wheels start to spring off. As soon as we leave the sweaty confines of the bunker, the intelligence level plummets. All the tightly-wound tension, which built masterfully to Howard’s inevitable unravelling, is eroded to make way for a maximalist action flick completely at odds with the preceding 90 minutes.
What promised to forge a new frontier in a world of carbon copy sequels turns out to be a shameless, ill-considered and downright illogical marketing ploy. Punters may feels duped, but the film has already made back more than three times its budget. Well played, JJ. Well played.
Runtime: 106 mins; Genre: Sci-fi/Thriller; Released: 18 March 2016;
Director: Dan Trachtenberg; Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle;
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Click here to watch the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane