When the original Cloverfield came out in 2008, it took some doing to figure out where the film got its title. Most just assumed Cloverfield was the name given to the giant monster since it was the movie’s focus and it was never named at any point in the film, but if you either pay really close attention or do a little research, you find that Cloverfield refers to the military operation intended to put a stop to the monster’s rampage. I mention this because if you are going in to 10 Cloverfield Lane expecting a sequel to the first movie, you’re not getting it, not directly anyway. The title does give away that it’s a sequel in spirit, however.
10 Cloverfield Lane focuses on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a young woman who, after a serious car accident, wakes up chained to a wall in a bare concrete room with no windows. It doesn’t take long before Howard (John Goodman) drops in to check on her and let her know that he saved her not only from the car accident, but also from an armageddon of indeterminate origin that has made it impossible to leave the underground bunker Howard is now keeping Michelle locked away in. The third character of importance is Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr., who more or less forced his way into the underground bunker when things above ground started falling apart, confirming Howard’s story to Michelle.
John Goodman as Howard is, probably to no one’s surprise, the highlight of the film. All the tension in 10 Cloverfield Lane really rests almost entirely on his performance, and he does not disappoint. In Howard we have a man who seems nearly unhinged, but not quite, who seems like a person you really don’t want to be stuck locked away in, essentially, a cell with, with no means of escape. But, he also definitely seems to know how to survive, he has planned ahead, and who seems genuine not only about what has happened to the outside world, but also in his desire to keep himself and his charges safe.
The other two characters and performances, unfortunately, are nowhere near as nuanced as Goodman’s. Michelle is not quite your typical damsel in distress, as we can see on quite a few occasions that she’s very intelligent and is one hell of an improviser, but aside from that we really don’t have much of anything to really grab onto or emphathize with. Emmett has even less going for him, as he seems there only to provide exposition, a little humor, and gives a sane character to balance out Howard. Sane in this case, however, adds up to milquetoast.
If 10 Cloverfield Lane had been an hour long television episode in a Black Mirror/Twilight Zone style show, it would have been an incredible and truly memorable story. The times when the film racks up the tension in the underground bunker are truly gripping. The film does an excellent job at letting us know just enough to know there is true danger both underground and outside, but not enough to know how much nor which is more dangerous. However, the film has quite a few slow spots obviously meant to just fill a bit of running time, and the film’s finale takes a complete tonal turn that does not work at all. 10 Cloverfield Lane may honestly have been a better film had it been made for the small instead of the big screen and had rougly half of its running time cut to make for a more taught and consistent story.
10 Cloverfield Lane has its moments, quite a few good ones, in fact, and John Goodman gives quite an intense performance. But due to two bland lead characters, way too much filler in the script, and a completely whackadoodle ending, I can not recommend seeing this one in the theaters. Wait for streaming video, there’s nothing here that needs to be seen on the big screen and there are long stretches where you’ll want to multitask while waiting for something good to happen.
Rating: 4.8 out of 10