10 CLOVERFIELD LANE came out of nowhere just a couple of months ago. The trailers for the movie have been deliberately vague and the finished product delivers many an unexpected twist and turn. Director Dan Trachtenberg has created a tense, economical character piece that eschews spectacle for intimacy and rejects exposition for the sake of viewer interpretation. The script, written by Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken with additional material by Damien Chazelle, introduces its characters in a very matter-of-fact fashion, leaving the viewer to discern clues from the dialogue, expressions and actions as each person uncovers the reality of their situation. Without damning Trachtenberg’s future efforts, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE inhabits the same plane of existence that used to be the top-end realm of M.Night Shyamalan with films like THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE and SIGNS. There’s also the unmistakable flourish of the film’s Producer - J.J. Abrams - and the famous ‘Mystery Box’ approach to movie making; a skill that Trachtenberg seems to have no difficulty emulating.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, a young woman who, as the movie opens, has made the life-changing decision leave her partner Ben (a disembodied Bradley Cooper, who is only heard on a mobile phone loudspeaker). The opening sequence of Michelle’s departure goes on for some time and is eventually broken when she pulls into a roadside garage to refuel her car. Soon after she resumes her flight, she is spun off the road by something unseen, leaving her and her car in a gully by the side of the road worse for wear. Michelle is knocked unconscious and wakes to find herself battered, bloody and chained by her leg to metal framework in an otherwise sparse concrete cell. Uncertainty prevails for several minutes as she is unclear where she is and what the intention of her captor may be. Her confusion is resolved with the entry of Howard (John Goodman), a peculiar character whose principal purpose seems to be to remind Michelle that she should consider herself lucky to be where she is. To help intensify the interactions between Howard and Michelle, Trachtenberg allows Goodman to play Howard as a split personality, where one personality has no recognition of what the other personality has just done. Goodman sells the duality of the character extremely well and he dials his performance up and down subject to his perceived threat level of what is happening around him.
The script adds complication to the mix with the introduction of Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who has voluntarily associated himself with Howard, despite the older man’s strange disposition. Throughout the course of the story, the three characters exhibit various levels of trust/distrust with one another as they try to come to terms that some unseen catastrophe beyond their own sheltered environment has had serious consequences for humanity. Cinematographer Jeff Cutter does a great job with his lighting at capturing a cross between the drab environment of a kitschy Middle American home and a rabbit-warren that has an in-built sense of claustrophobia that plays on the three characters 24-7. The Sound Department also deserve recognition, as a lot of the tension is built-up off-screen with everyday noises and sounds that become distorted as a result of the character’s environment and allow for multiple interpretations and justification of their circumstance, especially by Howard. His ability to rationalise all manner of sounds make Michelle extremely sceptical and, eventually, she is able to convince Emmett that they shouldn’t simply take Howard’s word for granted about their situation.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a genuine thriller with an array of genre tropes woven through its story that push it beyond the realm of being just a gritty, intense drama into something that is much harder to define but all the better for it. Goodman and Winstead are fantastic. Their performances are understated and help to sell the reality of their situation. Goodman is especially good and does a great job as the unpredictable Howard. Trachtenberg’s direction is very assured and belies his relative inexperience as a feature film Director. Additional nods go to Bear McCreary’s music score, as well as Film Editor Stefan Grube, who compiles the sequences together to build an escalating sense of tension that lasts up to the film’s final scene. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is definitely a cinematic path well worth travelling down.
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After surviving a car accident, a young woman wakes up in an underground cellar. She fears she has been abducted by a survivalist, who tells her he saved her life and that a worldwide chemical attack has left Earth's surface uninhabitable. Uncertain what to believe, she decides she must escape, no matter what dangers she may face outside.
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