By Jarrod Jones. Dan Trachtenberg’s name may be at the helm of 10 Cloverfield Lane, but J.J. Abrams’ grimy little mitts are all over this thing. Even if you were to vivisect the film’s trailer — released two months ago, just days after the reveal that this elusive Abrams project no longer carried the moniker Valencia, because (surprise!) it was a sequel to Cloverfield — all you would have in front of you is what Abrams has famously referred to as “a mystery box.” And that’s what 10 Cloverfield Lane is. One big, fat mystery, lovingly nestled within the confines of letterbox.
And it certainly wouldn’t do to discuss the secrets kept inside. Suffice it to say that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a clever enough thriller, with a compelling enough story to keep you pinned to your theater seat for the duration of its rather svelte 103 minute running time. There are problems to be found with the picture, to be sure, but to delineate them without giving away the whole fracas would be an endurance test I’m not sure I’m prepared to attempt.
Just know that those problems have little to do with the performances of 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s three game leads (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr). Each bring something vital to the thick intrigue that fogs the air of the film’s confining set piece, a fallout bunker that seems cozier than it ought to be, given the extreme circumstances of their predicament. (Monopoly, doilies, and at least a decade’s worth of soda are among its exhaustive contents.)
John Goodman is Howard, a former Navy officer who let his conspiracy theories and paranoia dismantle his homelife shortly before the world went on radio silence. Howard’s rescue of Michelle (Winstead, carrying far more grief than the film has time for) and Emmett (Gallagher, who’s just… there) would seem virtuous enough, were it not for those moments where he looks like he’s about to absolutely lose it on everybody. It’s not long before Michelle and Emmett realize that they’re not so much guests in Howard’s home — they’re prisoners.
And with that, I’ve already said too much. The secrets of 10 Cloverfield Lane have given the film a reputation online that’s wholly evocative of the anticipation that surrounded Abrams’ other just-okay attempts at genre trickery. It’s definitely a kindred spirit with Super 8, and in true Abrams fashion, it cribs liberally from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Underneath all this projected sci-fi hype, there’s a quietly-made movie covertly waiting for you in the darkened theater, though Trachtenberg’s competent direction stirs up enough disquiet to elevate its melodrama to the strata of a really solid Twilight Zone episode. But that’s where the problem doth lie — in attempting a box office hail mary by luring in the Cloverfield faithful late in the game, 10 Cloverfield Lane is burdened with the responsibility of shouldering an entire franchise. But in order to do that, Trachtenberg’s mystery box needs more enticing contents rattling around inside.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg.
Produced by J. J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber.
Screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle.
Story by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken.
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher, Jr.
6.5 out of 10