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A different kind of monster movie

by Elijah Bukreev March 22, 2016
A different kind of monster movie

The mysterious follow-up to 2008’s Cloverfield is edge-of-your-seat material

A good marketing campaign can take a movie a long way. Too often, a blockbuster gets announced years in advance, trailers become unreasonably long and ubiquitous as the campaign goes on, and by the time the movie comes out, you feel like you’ve seen it already. Good marketing doesn’t mean you should know exactly what you’re getting, down to the little details. Quite the contrary—you should be made to feel that some major secret is being withheld from you.

The characters’ dinners are frequently disturbed by unexplained tremors from above.

The characters’ dinners are frequently disturbed by unexplained tremors from above.

The original Cloverfield is a textbook example of movie marketing done right—mystery is what made it so massively popular when it was released, even though the film itself came as a disappointment to some. Seven years later comes another, equally mysterious project, very loosely connected to the earlier monster movie and a massive improvement on it in every regard.

10 Cloverfield Lane is one of the most tense and exciting films in recent memory. Its immediate success couldn’t have been foreseen, for the simple reason that the film, directed by newcomer Dan Trachtenberg, was never even announced. In January 2016, there was suddenly a trailer for it, and now, two months later, it’s out in theatres.

Its story is still well guarded. The trailer won’t tell you more than you need to know, and, frankly, neither should this review. The film’s secrecy is part of its magic—looking at a roller-coaster before you take it will not diminish its effect, but 10 Cloverfield Lane, a roller-coaster in movie form, is best experienced if you walk into it in a blindfold. That’s just friendly advice, but if you’re not convinced, read on for its central mystery.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is knocked out in a car crash, and when she wakes up, she’s handcuffed to the wall in an underground bunker. The large and domineering Howard (John Goodman), who built the place under his home as a shelter from nuclear warfare, tells her it’s for her own good—there’s just been an attack, he says, that killed most living creatures on Earth, so by bringing her to his bunker, he actually saved her life. Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), an agreeable young man who helped build the bunker and has taken refuge in it, confirms the story—the outside air has been poisoned, and so they have no choice but to remain locked inside. Is Howard a kidnaper or a saviour? What can be believed?

Like last year’s Room, to which it deserves comparison, 10 Cloverfield Lane toys with its characters’ perception of reality, and the outside world, from within an enclosed space. The constant ambiguities and tonal changes that arise from every plot turn make the movie a strangely unpredictable experience, and a stunning mind game—depending on your perception of what’s happening, you may be watching a psychological thriller or a minimalistic disaster film. Or perhaps it is, like its predecessor, a monster movie? Right from the get-go, Goodman is effortlessly terrifying. Before you first see him, you hear the deafening stamp of his heavy footsteps, and when he appears, he is possibly more massive than you’ve ever seen him before. His behaviour is unreadable, his motives always under question. The clenching and unclenching of his fist is a more arresting image than any fantastic creature a computer could conjure.


Release date: March 11, 2016

Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

Stars: 4

103 minutes

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