Shrouded in secrecy, 10 Cloverfield Lane debuted its first trailer a mere two months ago. Fans of the original 2008 film were ecstatic they were going to get another round of the now titular monster, dubbed so by fans, with a new film and a fully realized ARG, or alternate reality game. Fans of the original film were consumed by the mystery of trying to uncover what the film was about adding an additional layer. Bad Robot and Paramount Pictures recreated that same magic for 10 Cloverfield Lane but may have shot themselves in the foot with everyone who went to see it. While the first two thirds of the film are a fantastic piece of filmmaking and one that warrants a look, the final act of the film bogs down what came before by forcefully stitching a new movie to it.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, a woman fleeing from a broken marriage. She carries nothing except for her clothing designs and her aspirations of becoming a clothing designer. On her way down a dark Louisiana road, she’s run off waking up in an empty room with a leg brace, an IV drip in her arm, and tethered to a wall by a crazed man played by John Goodman. Michelle soon realizes she can’t leave as Goodman’s character, as well as another occupant (John Gallagher, Jr.) believes the world to have ended and the air outside remain toxic. Not much else can be spoken about the plot without diving deep into Spoiler territory.
Goodman gives an outstanding performance as a crazed, obsessive maniac in Howard. Goodman adds a layer of eeriness and tad smidge of humanity to his character without skimping on making his character three-dimensional; he’s funny but without compromising his menace. Winstead is equally great matching Goodman, not in charm or menace, but in wit and cunning. Any other actress could have played this role as a damsel, weak and emotionally brittle but Winstead brilliantly encompasses an almost heroic stature layers above her fear and uncertainty if what she’s attempting to accomplish is the right thing to do.
Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut is a fantastic one. Every space within the bunker is claustrophobic making the audience feel uncomfortable and uneasy and possibly hyperventilate (like I was). Though told in third-person (the original film was first-person, found footage), Trachtenberg crafts his film with such precision that we almost know what’s going on inside the mind of Michelle; that also comes down to Winstead’s performance.
Cinematographer Jeff Cutter helps sell the claustrophobia of the bunker with dinge and fluorescent lighting. The film is shot tightly with a longer lens forcing the three principal actors closer together, ensuring the negative space is as obscured as possible.
Going in, I knew about the added layer of some form of monstrosity as I was loosely following the ARG. However, I became so invested with John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead that the second ending of the film was forced down my throat for the sake of appeasing vocal fans who wanted another Cloverfield film. Without spoiling the film too much, the need to attach the second ending undermined Goodman’s performance and, frankly, the story Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken were trying to tell. I wonder if Bad Robot hijacked the film from Trachtenberg and filmed a new ending without his involvement.
Up to that point in the film, it’s a valiant effort from Trachtenberg that deserves some attention. Many are talking that Goodman may end up with an Oscar nomination for his role, and while the role was one of his best in recent memory, I don’t foresee him taking home the gold nor scoring a nod, for that matter; it is too early to tell, so who knows. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a fantastic psychological thriller up until the point it stops being that and takes on a wholly different genre all together. Am I disappointed, sure, but at least I have the first hour and fifteen minutes to re-watch and marvel.