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10 Cloverfield Lane Movie Review

10 Cloverfield Lane: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
10 Cloverfield Lane is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) movie poster 10 Cloverfield Lane

Theatrical Release: March 11, 2016 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Dan Trachtenberg / Writers: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken (story & screenplay); Damien Chazelle (screenplay)

Cast: John Goodman (Howard), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Michelle), John Gallagher, Jr. (Emmett DeWitt), Douglas M. Griffin (Driver), Suzanne Cryer (Woman), Bradley Cooper (voice of Ben), Sumalee Montano (Voice on Radio), Frank Mottek (Radio Broadcaster)

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If you've given it any thought coming in, you may wonder for the majority of 10 Cloverfield Lane how this new film is connected to Cloverfield, the 2008 found footage monster movie.
Key personnel of that secretively-marketed, modestly-budgeted mild hit, including producer J.J. Abrams, director Matt Reeves, and screenwriter Drew Goddard, are credited among the producers here. But, although its full title slowly and deliberately grows out of the word "Cloverfield", Lane appears to be its own quite different thing: a single-setting mystery-thriller with no interest in beating the dead horse that is the found footage format.

Our film opens with an efficient and silent way of establishing its protagonist. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) hastily packs up her belongings and leaves an apartment. She gets a call from her boyfriend (an unrecognizable and unseen Bradley Cooper) pleading for her to return, but she is gone and has nothing else to say. Then, one jump scare and interwoven titles later, she finds herself hooked up to an IV drip and chained to a pipe in a dank basement.

In "10 Cloverfield Lane", Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself a captive after being rescued from a car crash.

She meets her captor, who slides her a tray of food and expects some gratitude. He is an imposing man named Howard (John Goodman) and he explains he saved her from apocalypse above. She is safe in his purified, sealed bunker that is equipped with electricity and running water and full of provisions, DVDs and videocassettes, board games, and puzzles. Though Howard eases up on the leg chaining and locking her into her bedroom (a mattress on the floor), the more this Navy veteran says about the mysterious dangers lingering at the surface (to which he points out two dead pigs as proof) and his dead daughter, the more he seems like a certifiable lunatic.

The bunker houses one other person: a young man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who has voluntarily sought at Howard's shelter, having known him for a while. But he and Michelle come to doubt Howard's account and plan an escape.

For most of its runtime, 10 Cloverfield Lane kind of resembles John Carpenter's The Thing (whose poorly-performing remake starred Winstead) or for a more recent example Ex Machina, without such overt sci-fi as either. (There's a bit of a Room feel too, with our heroine slightly recalling the one played by new Oscar winner Brie Larson, who has separately worked with all three leads.) We are trying to read Howard along with his two guests and their digs, complete with jukebox and fish tank, do seem pretty lush to braving fallout up above, if that's really a thing, which it might be. There are secret plans, a tense and telling game of Charades, and some effective suspense involving Michelle venturing into the vents to restart a filtration system.

A spaghetti dinner in the bunker is disturbed by noises from the Earth's surface.

It's all investable, functional, and fairly fresh, if not quite exceptional. But, where you might reasonably expect the movie to end, it keeps going and answers that Cloverfield connection question you probably had long since forgotten.
It's a 180-degree shift tonally, sure to disarm those who had been hooked by this claustrophobic slow burn and yet also disappoint those who came in wanting another Cloverfield-type movie. You do get something resembling the latter in this final act, but it's so tough to reconcile that with the completely different movie that has come before.

It's almost like someone came in and decided the movie needed a more powerful ending, at which point the Bad Robot gang decided why not tie this into Cloverfield, a property that was fairly well-received if not particularly well-remembered? You doubt that someone was Whiplash writer-director Damien Chazelle, yet no one else but he is credited separately from the story/screenwriter duo of Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, who are new to writing but have major film credits in other fields. The fractured design is a bit of a head-scratcher, regardless of whether you prefer Cloverfield-esque action to the radically different, more plot-driven potboiler you mostly get here.

Though saddled with a kind of ridiculous wardrobe, Winstead is good enough to make you wonder why her career has kind of fizzled in recent years. Goodman is highly effective, making you wonder why he has avoided or not gotten a weightier role like this over often brief comic relief duties. Gallagher has some amusing moments in the tertiary role, one of his highest-profile to date. Making his feature directing debut with a fairly long resume that is void of recent credits, Dan Trachtenberg proves capable at the helm, though unable to get us through that abrupt transition in an even slightly smooth fashion.

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Related Reviews:
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Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World A.C.O.D. Sky High
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John Gallagher, Jr.: The Newsroom: The Complete First Season Margaret Whatever Works

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Reviewed March 11, 2016.

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