Going Underground: A review of 10 Cloverfield Lane

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It’s not a sequel, it’s a blood relative. For the last two months, ever since the surprise release of the trailer in January, the only thing we’ve found out about the debut feature from director Dan Trachtenberg was that it only bared a whisper of a resemblance to the 2008 hit.

It’s still produced by J.J. Abrams and his company Bad Robot and it has Cloverfield in the title, but in tone, it’s completely different. Compared to the crash bang excitement of the Matt Reeves directed original, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense, atmospheric chamber piece that values character study and slowly building atmosphere over SFX.

How many big Hollywood films do you know that were practically unheard of until just a couple of months ago and now, with a fair amount of minimal marketing, is a critical and commercial success, all without revealing the film’s big twists and turns?

It’s a testament to the studio system smashing Abrams and his team that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a hit when you have films like Batman V Superman, which despite it’s best efforts, can’t master up the anticipation from people who are supposed to be its fans.

I don’t want to give too much away because the less you know, the better the experience will be and I feel like I knew a little too much going in, but the story follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman injured in a car accident, who wakes up in an underground bunker with the imposing Howard (John Goodman) and local man Emmett (John Gallagher Jr).

Whilst initially it seems that she’s been brought here to be protected from an outside force, as the film progresses we learn that all is not at it seems.

A mix of Room, Misery, Signs and The Lovely Bones, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent study in character and tension, with superb performances from Winstead and Goodman that anchor the apocalypse elements to a sense of realism.

Winstead, in particular, already fragile after a break-up, uses her pain as a means to help feed her determination to uncover the truth, despite being anchored by a broken leg.

The characters talk a lot, but it never feels boring as the tension builds with every spoken word and the camera uses the space effectively to capture the claustrophobic atmosphere of the bunker. This is heightened by a gripping score from Bear McCreary and a marvelous balance of drama and light humour, meaning that the humour doesn’t overwhelm and the drama doesn’t become too much.

As the film reaches its climax, things may become a little too formulaic as the previous hour or so may fall by the wayside but in the end, it doesn’t overshadow what was a fantastically exciting and interesting film.

I’m a big fan of apocalypse/dystopian dramas and the way that this film presents its world to us, drip feeding information and letting us uncover the mystery at the same time as the characters is a great way to build a blockbuster.

Excellent writing, fantastic actors and themes more suited to horror thrillers than sci-fi, this is the dark horse of 2016, a blockbuster done right.

Whilst it would be better suited to watching in a triple bill with Room or Misery, the blood relative nature of the film to Cloverfield, at least, gives audiences a reason to watch and I don’t mind that one bit.

Rating: A-

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