These days, film studios and distribution companies spend millions on both expensive and exhausting promotional campaigns. Once, there were only trailers, which were viewed solely in theaters and used to pique interest for an upcoming release. Now, there are teaser trailers, which are essentially trailers to the trailers. They often feature no footage, but manage to just inform the public to keep their pockets open for the next monotonous Star Wars or Marvel film. Universal announcing the release of 10 Cloverfield Lane with little fandom, just under two months before its opening, was a breath of fresh air. Some may consider producer J.J. Abram's masterstroke to be nothing more than a cash grab- the film was originally titled The Cellar, and the connections to 2008's Cloverfield were added at the very end of the shoot. However, this tense, thrilling, chamber-piece film ought to make naysayers realize that a Cloverfield anthology series is a treat for moviegoers.
10 Cloverfield Lane opens with Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who, after a seemingly tense argument with her significant other, leaves her home in a car. She drives on and on, while her boyfriend leaves voicemail after voicemail (for the discerning ear, the boyfriend's voice is indeed that of Bradley Cooper). Suddenly, she crashes. Knocked unconscious, she awakens in a small room, chained to the wall. This brilliantly executed opening scene takes us into the opening credits, which juxtapose silence with loud, booming noises of the crash - first-time director Dan Trachtenberg has established a strong, tense hold on the material and doesn't let go.
Michelle is soon approached by Howard, played by the magnificent John Goodman, who informs her of a chemical, perhaps nuclear attack, that has wiped out all living organisms and contaminated the air. He claims to have found her lying on the road after her accident, and brings her to his hideout out of harms way. Michelle is joined in the cellar by Emmett, another survivor of the attack who actually help built the cellar years ago for Howard. For the rest of the film, Michelle must figure out if Howard is telling the truth, or if he has an ulterior and nefarious motive for keeping her in the cellar. John Goodman has been the subject of much praise for his performance in this movie. Arguably one of the greatest character actors in film, Goodman has played quirky characters who often steal the show, even when not the lead. While this may be true again in the case of this film, the film relies more heavily on Winstead's brilliant portrayal of a flawed, nuanced, and most importantly, balanced woman. Her character is not completely a weak victim, nor does she seem to have superpowers that get her out of any sticky situation. The most apropos comparison would be to that of iconic film character Ripley in Ridley Scott's Alien, who through perseverance and mental ingenuity became one of film's most celebrated female characters.
While the set-up of the film was exciting, featuring only three characters in a single location for the majority of the film, it did suffer from lackluster writing at points. In such a film, it is vital for each character to be unique, and properly developed. Strongly written characters demand our emotional attachment, which only heightens our emotions when we view the fate of the characters unfold on screen. For example, Emmett's backstory renders him a far less interesting character than his two counter-parts. We actually know 'most' about his character through a dull, exposition-laden monologue, but even then, his character remains two-dimensional Ultimately, his backstory is forced, attempts to play with the audiences' emotions inorganically, and is built on familiar film tropes. In a film that resembles a pressure cooker about to explode, it is unfortunate that the resolution of Emmett's character ultimately lies only in shock-value.
For those familiar with the first Cloverfield film, you will likely realize what this film is building up to. I will refrain from openly mentioning the ending- for those with no knowledge of Cloverfield, however, the final fifteen minutes of the film will blow you away, for better or for worse. While I enjoyed the climactic spectacle of 10 Cloverfield Lane, I believe maintaining the film as a chamber piece would have led to a more unique final product. A more Twilight Zone-esque ending would have been more fitting. After spending 100 tense minutes with only three characters, a jarring and brazen psychological twist ending would have been more impactful and left a much more lasting impression in my mind. For its strong sense of atmosphere, structure, and unique marketing, 10 Cloverfield Lane is highly entertaining and something moviegoers ought to enjoy so early in the year, before we are pummeled by a plethora of superhero and big-budget messes.