The second strong thriller directorial-debut in less than a year (the first being The Gift). I’m sensing a pattern here.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) is a thriller-mystery directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Its stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, a woman who, after getting into a car accident, is held in a shelter by two men, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and the unsettling Howard (John Goodman) who both claim that the outside world is now uninhabitable.
To say anything more would spoil the intelligent mystery and tension Lane builds throughout its 106 minute runtime. From the shocking opening credits onwards, the movie chugs forward at a steady pace, peaking and dipping in suspense like a rollercoaster. But when Trachtenberg decides to hit the panic button, well… things get scary. This film is not for the weak of heart or stomach. But anyone who loves feeling on edge is going to adore Lane‘s unnerving tone.
The tension is built partly through the steady drip feed of information, but also through the brilliantly unnerving performances on show. Of the three leads, Winstead never wavers as a protagonist – Michelle is bright, driven and incredibly easy to root for. Unlike many other thrillers and horror movies, the characters not only act like logical human beings, but are often several steps ahead of the audience which is a nice change of pace from the usual head-scratching behaviour that perpetuates the genre. John Gallagher Jr. is also good, but is unfortunately under-used compared to Goodman and Winstead and so unfortunately doesn’t make much of an impression.
But now to Goodman… Wow. This has got to be one of John Goodman’s greatest roles in an already stellar career. His character, Howard, is used incredibly well in the script, constantly shifting between adversary or support to the point that the audience often doesn’t know whether to root for him or hate him – a difficult objective to accomplish, but under Goodman’s guiding talent is pulled off effortlessly. Far and away the best part of the film.
The only real criticism I have for 10 Cloverfield Lane is the ending. As expected for a mystery, the last 10-20 minutes houses a third act reveal that is, while definitely hinted at, is not handled in the best way.The film does build up to the reveal, but when it arrives not only does it feel like its from a completely different movie, but the tension and mystery so prevalent in the rest of the film simply evaporates. Cut off the last 20 minutes and it would have been excellent, but sadly Trachtenberg keeps going and unfortunately ends an excellent movie on a sour note.
But outside the disappointing ending, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a masterclass in suspense and clever writing. A talented cast, incredible tonality, and an impressive debut makes Lane an easy recommend. Just leave before the last 20 minutes.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended