"There's been an attack, not sure yet if it's chemical or nuclear. But down here you're safe."
There has been a great deal of confusion surrounding this movie. Namely, people seem to be unable to comprehend what J.J Abrams means when he says “spiritual sequel”. I think an easier way to process what this movie means is to think of the ‘Cloverfield’ as the modern version of ‘The Twilight Zone’ a series of different horror stories all united under a common banner to attract audiences. So far the brand has given us a found footage disaster kind of horror movie, and now it’s offering a psychological kind of horror instead.
When Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) crashes her car and loses consciousness she wakes up in an underground bunker with just two people for company. One of them (John Goodman) tells her that she has been taken there for her own safety, as protection from the disaster outside. Is he her saviour or her captor?
I almost forgot what it was like to experience a film that managed to keep me guessing for its entirety, to be so wrapped up in the characters and their plight that my mind doesn’t quite have time to think about it as a movie, to just view the situation and look for clues within the surroundings to try and deduce exactly what is happening. ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ does that superbly. I can safely say that I was on the edge of my seat for the entire runtime, the tension was excruciating but at the same time endlessly intriguing.
I think a lot of this lies with the direction of Dan Trachtenberg who, in his first feature film, uses the limited space to create such an atmosphere of suspense and mystery. It permeates almost every moment of the film and rarely lets up, even in the movie’s quitter moments there is something eerily unsettling just in the way that the camera moves and what it chooses to show us. But one can also attribute this atmosphere to the writers, one of which is Damien Chazelle (who is making a real name for himself as a horror writer with ‘The Witch’ as well as this, and even outside of the genre he excels because it’s one year later and I’m still thinking about ‘Whiplash’). Their script is what allows Trachtenberg’s direction to play with our forced perspectives and make us fear what we don’t know.
But what’s even more remarkable is that even in the tight confines of the bunker there is a game of cat and mouse that persists throughout the entire film. The character dynamic allows for some terrific moments of tension and suspense as each one tries to deduce exactly what the other person knows, and what they think they know. For example Michelle is obviously suspicious that her rescuer is lying to her but should she let him know that his reaction could be even worse, so she must nurse her suspicions under a blanket of secrecy and all the while we observe Goodman, waiting to see if this is a façade or the reality of the situation.
The only problem with observing Goodman is that it’s frighteningly difficult to deduce what his true motives are. The reason is because Goodman is absolutely fantastic in this movie. His performance is a masterclass in misdirection, tiptoeing the line between insane or simply someone that enjoys control. Inevitable questions start to build up and you can’t help but urge Michelle to discover the truth. It’s the kind of performance that makes your skin crawl and unease’s you from the moment he appears on screen. Winstead is able to match him in almost every scene together, though her performance doesn’t have quite as many subtle nuances as Goodman’s it’s not really within the perimeters of her character, nervous twitches and moral ambiguity wouldn’t suit her role as protagonist. Unlike a lot of movies in this genre our main character is not an idiot, she goes about her situation logically and with actual thought. It makes it easier to root for her.
The last half an hour is something I still haven’t fully decided upon. I don’t even know what I can say here because to all intents and purposes this film works better the less you know going into it. I would never say the ending derails the film but is it executed in the best possible way to make it believable? There’s still the same sense of logic and commitment behind each act and each plot point and ultimately I’m fine with it, but I suspect not everyone will be.
Taught, intelligent and endlessly suspenseful.