10 Cloverfield Lane is the latest Mystery Box film from the minds at Bad Robot. Producer JJ Abrams uses not only the weight of his name, but apparently the weight of the 2008 monster flick Cloverfield as a surprise marketing tool for this film that nobody knew about three months ago. Well, now it’s out, we can shed a little bit more light (but not too much) on the plot of this mysterious beast.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, someone who has broken off her relationship with her partner (portrayed in voice only by Bradley Cooper). We meet her as she packs her bags hurriedly in a impactful opening which is emotionally assisted by a great score by Bear McCreary. As day turns into night, she makes her way across the countryside and wouldn’t you know it, gets into a car crash. She awakes in a bare room with a chain tied to her knee and a drip hanging out of her arm. Soon, she meets the man who put her in that situation, Howard (John Goodman). This is the basic set up of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and ideally, this basic set up is all you need to know about the film going into it.
At its core, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a film that I would have absolutely loved when I was thirteen. The basic set up is actually quite brilliant and it doesn’t muck around getting to the core plot. However, besides what you learn about these characters within the bunker, you don’t get much more character development other than Michelle is running away from her partner, Howard built a bunker just in case a disaster occurred, and third bunker-mate Emmett (John Gallager Jr.) was a guy who helped build the bunker. Thirteen-year-old me would have loved to have been thrown right into the action with no real set up or idea what’s going on. Thirty-one-year-old me though, was not as impressed.
The lack of solid character development made for a generous lack of tension. For the first half hour or so, you’re not entirely sure of Howard’s intentions – is he more Annie Wilkes than Good Samaritan? But, once you find out his ‘secret’, the tension dissipates making the remaining moments mere checkpoints that need to be ticked off to get to the finale.
Bundle this with a main character who is resourceful, yet other than that, we know little about her. This is not to say that films can’t be engaging if they have little character development, but they at least need to be written in a way that gives talented actors like John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead something to work with. First time feature film director Dan Trachtenberg works off a script written by first time writers Matthew Stuecken and Josh Campbell, with additional work by Whiplash director Damien Chazelle. The dialogue is good enough, and odds are, this is possibly where Chazelle’s work is most evident. This is not to say that the direction and plot is not solid enough, it’s just that this mostly feels like a film that was born as an idea, and everything was slotted in place to fit that idea.
Part of what thirteen-year-old me would have loved so much about this film is its willingness to just fully embrace its bonkers story. However, the troubling part of this is that the main issues I have with the film are major spoilers for the film. At a later stage, once the film has been out for a period of time, I will run through with spoilers what I found problematic. If you’re on board with the story going to some odd places, then you may be more forgiving than I was, however I found that the lack of compelling characters and lack of tension made for a tiring journey to the somewhat expected and head scratching finale.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Steucken, Damien Chazelle