If anyone tries to tell you anything about “10 Cloverfield Lane” beyond whether or not they liked it, cover your ears and start humming. It’s a movie best experienced without knowing anything substantive in advance. Anyone who even hints at what happens at the end is just begging to have his ears boxed.
I will tell you I liked the film. A lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me I watched the entire thing without blinking. It’s tight, suspenseful, and kept me guessing. Right from the beginning, I wondered where it was going, and when the payoff arrived, I loved it. If I’d known everything about the story in advance, it might not have worked as well, but seeing it fresh, it was a gripping and satisfying experience.
Here’s what else I can tell you about “10 Cloverfield Lane” without your having to cover your ears: The movie follows three people living in an underground bunker as they ... Hmmm ... I’m already in danger of telling you too much. OK, it follows the day-to-day life of three people living in an underground bunker. One of them won’t let the other two leave because he says doing so will sign their death warrants.
The questions come fast. Is he telling the truth? If not, what’s really going on? Once the movie answers those questions, it asks more – never explicitly, but through implication, always trusting viewers to keep up.
The performances are a big part of why “10 Cloverfield Lane” works as well as it does. John Goodman plays the farmer who built the bunker and insists the other two stay there with him. His part is the trickiest of the three, as he has to keep viewers speculating. Is he a survivalist kook? Or a harmless farmer who lacks social skills? Can he contain what appears to be a hair-trigger temper? Goodman knocks this role out of the ballpark. When he’s being nice, he has the kind of face that convinces you to buy what he’s selling. And when he’s mean, he plays it better than anyone.
Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays one of Goodman’s “boarders.” She also serves as the film’s anchor. The movie opens with her leaving her apartment in an undisclosed city and setting off on a long drive, and her ordeal throughout the opening scenes sets her up as a sympathetic character – someone we want to survive. If you’re expecting a damsel in distress, though, check your assumptions at the door. She’s smart, resourceful, and a worthy nemesis for Goodman’s farmer.
Maybe you should cover your ears and start humming.
Goodman and Winstead, as well as the third roommate, clearly worked off of a clever script. And Dan Trachtenberg, in his directorial debut, keeps things moving. He also makes the most of the limited amount of space in the bunker, knows when and how to turn up the heat, and doesn’t resort to cheap scare tactics. I enjoyed seeing such confident work from a first-time director.
Also of note is the original music. I especially liked the sharp, staccato strings in the opening scene, which were ramped up even louder than the sound effects. They establish an urgency that never dies down, even during the film’s quiet scenes.
In the end, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the answer to a “What if” question I cannot reveal. If you listen closely to the dialogue, though, you’ll catch it, and the ending will be even sweeter because you paid attention. If you just roll with the movie, though, you’ll have a great time. An appreciation for thrillers is required, however.
I hope I didn’t just say too much.
Three stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences, violence, and brief language.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org