Regular readers will know that I’m not a big fan of the horror genre and almost never watch horror films on the big screen. So what was I doing going to watch 10 Cloverfield Lane during its opening week, especially since I didn’t like Cloverfield all that much? Well, despite knowing nothing about this so-called horror film other than that it starred John Goodman and had scenes in an underground bunker, my gut somehow convinced me that it wasn’t a real horror film and had no real resemblance to Cloverfield. My gut was correct. By my definition, 10 Cloverfield Lane does not fit into the horror film genre. I can’t tell you into which genre or genres I would place 10 Cloverfield Lane, because that would qualify as a spoiler. This is one of those films that the less you know about the plot, the better your viewing experience will be.
I will say that a significant portion of the film does indeed take place in an underground bunker and features three characters: Howard (played by Goodman), the older farmer who built the bunker; Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young woman who wakes up in the bunker after a car accident, and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the young man who helped Howard build the bunker. I can’t tell you anything else about the plot.
What I can tell you is that the only way 10 Cloverfield Lane has a chance of being a good film is if the performance of the actor playing the protagonist (that would be Michelle; oops, I did reveal more about the plot) is spot-on. Fortunately, Winstead’s performance was exactly that and the result is that Michelle had my full sympathy for every moment she was in the film (though I did not by any means support all of her actions, some of which seemed quite ill-advised).
Goodman is always a joy to watch and he is likewise perfect in his role as Howard. Gallagher Jr. was nothing special, but he didn’t need to be. 10 Cloverfield Lane has a number of original concepts but some scenes looked all-too familiar (and some scenes were less than exciting). I kept wishing the dialogue was more intelligent, though it had its moments. And the story definitely keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat. In the end, however, it is Winstead and Goodman who make the film work as well as it does.
I watched 10 Cloverfield Lane in a packed theatre. During one twenty-minute stretch the intensity was so high that it literally felt as if everyone in the theatre was holding their breath. I realized only afterwards how tensed-up I had been during that time, not even thinking of moving a muscle. Such a thing would never happen to me in most action films (not that I’m saying 10 Cloverfield Lane is or isn’t an action film).
So while 10 Cloverfield Lane, which is directed by Dan Trachtenberg, is not, in my opinion, a masterpiece, I enjoyed it much more than Cloverfield and am tempted to give it ***+. Part of me thinks that’s too generous. In any event, my mug is up.