If you saw 2008’s “Cloverfield,” then you won’t be surprised at all to know that sequel / pseudo-sequel / side-story “10 Cloverfield Lane” is also great. Where the 2008 film went big with its action and terror, the new film goes smaller and finds even more thrilling territory to mine. Same as when you went to “Cloverfield”, the less you know going in the better, so I’ll keep plot specifics to a minimum.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a tense, playful movie bursting with confidence. The movie is anchored by a trio of excellent performances from John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr.. Under the threat of power outages across the country, Michelle (Winstead) and Emmett (Gallagher Jr.) end up in an underground shelter with Howard (Goodman) as their caretaker. The looming paranoia has Michelle (and the audience) questioning everyone’s motivations and intentions. Much of the films pleasures come from watching the actors play out their cat and mouse game. Goodman is thoroughly unnerving. One moment he’s showing a father’s warmth to his guests, the next he’s questioning the ulterior motives of Michelle and Emmett touching hands. Goodman never tips his hand and straddles the line between well-intentioned do-gooder and delusion lunatic. Winstead is every bit Goodman’s match, a sparring partner ready for the fight herself. But Winstead and Goodman are always great, so knowing they do more good work here is the least surprising thing about the movie. Don’t overlook Gallagher Jr., because he’s just as good as his more heralded costars.
There’s a resourcefulness to the characters that’s mirrored in the filmmaking. When the story needs to move the camera is fluid and energetic. When things get more dramatic director Dan Trachtenberg (making a strong debut) pulls back and lets the actors take center stage. There are a couple of long, nearly dialogue free sequences where composer Bear McCreary’s score dominates.
The story works really well on its own, and would make for a fine thriller without the “Cloverfield” connection. Knowing what’s waiting for the characters just adds another layer of tension. It’s like knowing John McClane has a Texas-sized asteroid to deal with once he finally escapes Nakatomi Plaza. Once the connection between the two movies becomes more explicit, the film shifts gears and resembles its predecessor a little more. It’s a jarring shift and one that doesn’t leave you with time to consider it in the moment. No matter what you think of this shift, it unquestionably proves that this world is richer than it appears and I hope we get to return to it.