Small Budget, Great Cast, and Wonderful New Director Makes “10 Cloverfield Lane” A Gem

By Scott Kurland

Film: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr
Rated PG-13
Director: Dan Trachtenberg

God bless J.J. Abrams. The man is a true genius and pioneer. He knows what a marketable brand name he is, and he uses that name as a force for good. In the past, Abrams has  produced films solely to help young, upcoming directors get discovered. Last year, not only did he make “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” he also produced the indie gem “Infinitely Polar Bears.” His involvement helped the film get made and draw in stars like Zoe Saldana and Mark Ruffalo. He’s been doing this for years, but this compulsion really took off in 2008 when he produced a little film called “Cloverfield”. Coincidentally, that film shares the same universe with this week’s film “10 Cloverfield Lane”. Let’s find out how good it is shall we?

“10 Cloverfield Lane” begins with a car crash involving a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). When Michelle finds her way back to consciousness, she finds herself confined to a bed in a small cell-like room. What she learns is that there has been a global attack, and her captor, the mysterious Howard (John Goodman) saved her life. Now Michelle, Howard, and a young man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) must survive together in Howard’s bomb shelter. Of course, things begin to unravel when Emmett and Michelle start to see Howard display of odd and unnerving attributes. Are they really safe? Or are they trapped on “10 Cloverfield Lane”?

I must start out by saying: “Bravo, Dan Trachtenberg, Bravo”. This was his first, full-length feature and he proved that, with the right tools, a new director is a valuable commodity. I don’t know what it is with filming in bunkers or small rooms, but both this film and “Room” showed us what a grand world a tiny area can be. Trachtenberg’s pacing and eye for detail here lead to some stunning visuals that help to reinforce the mind games played on both the characters and the audience. Trachtenberg also had an amazing script to work with, provided for him by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Oscar nominated writer Damien Chazelle. The script is astounding, and the traits found in all three leads are more layered and complex for a film of this nature.

What makes “10 Cloverfield Lane” really special are the performances of Goodman, Winstead, and Gallagher Jr. Each performance has several incredible arcs and complexities. As a result, you struggle to find what character you feel closest to. For me, the best performance in this film is Goodman. I truly wish they gave Oscar nominations to Sci-Fi thrillers, because Goodman gave the performance of a lifetime. Goodman’s Howard is a man you are weary of from the very beginning, but you are always given a reason to like him when you don’t want to. Goodman is hauntingly good as Howard. Winstead and Gallagher Jr are also spectacular. This is just another film with a small cast that’s further proof that Sci-Fi films come in all shapes and sizes.

What I loved most about “10 Cloverfield Lane” is that it’s a beautiful love letter to B-movies of the 1950s and 60s. We are given three types of Sci-Fi films in under 90 minutes of screen time. First, we get the survival Sci-Fi film that lasts for the first 45 minutes. The second genre is a whodunnit thriller set in the apocalypse. Finally, we get a real “War of Worlds” climatic final act. “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a smart, energetic, pulse-pounding thrill ride that everyone will love. Do yourself a favor and see this brilliant throwback feature. This film is proof that, if a movie is made under the radar and on a small budget with a great crew, it can and will become something special for the viewing audience. This is a must see film, so go ahead and see it.

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