Dan Trachtenberg's directorial debut 10 Cloverfield Lane demonstrates the virtue of ambience and ambiguity, but loses steam during its third act.
Not so much a sequel as it is a blood relative to the 2008 found-footage monster movie Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane functions as a stand-alone work. Trachtenberg wisely does away with the found-footage style in favor of traditional filmmaking. The premise is also changed, opting for a psychological thriller over monsters. An effort in the final thirty minutes to tie the two films together proves to be its undoing. The dread brought about in the first and second acts is betrayed by an uncouth third act, ruining immersion and damaging fluidity. The final product is a feature at odds with itself.
The narrative centers on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman who survives a grisly vehicle collision. She awakens in a makeshift underground hospital room in the care of Howard Stambler (John Goodman) the proprietor of said hospital and the fully equipped makeshift survival bunker it inhabits.
Howard informs Michelle that there has been a global attack and that she must remain in the bunker for her own safety. Rounding up the trio is Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a friendly if naïve young man whom Howard abuses. The three achieve a harmonious dynamic after preliminary tension. An incident, however, requiring Michelle to turn on a power generator leads to a harrowing revelation. Aware of the danger she faces and uncertain what to believe regarding Howard or the outside world, Michelle conspires with Emmett to escape from the bunker.
10 Cloverfield Lane utilizes its atmosphere with ardor and aptitude, preferring to imply rather than tell. Evident crisis looms over Michelle and Emmett at the hands of their captor, but his true nature remains unexplained. Only inconsistencies in Howard's stories, testimonials from Emmett, and indications of prior violence offer some insight into an unsightly truth. Goodman's haunting performance prospers from a claustrophobic setting, offering an omnipresent semblance to the inherent menace. These elements come together to present a nightmare-inducing and paranoia-inspiring drama.
These efforts are undermined by the final act. After escaping from the bunker, Michelle learns that Howard wasn't lying about the state of the world, and comes face to face with the monsters from the first picture. The initiative taken towards producing a great thriller proves inconsequential when the finale lowers its standards and throws all pretenses out the window. In fact, abandoning the aspects that drove 10 Cloverfield Lane feels like an act of treachery.
10 Cloverfield Lane fails because a great film plummets to the depths of mediocrity. Trachtenberg exhibits an understanding of what makes for compelling and riveting drama; shamefully this is subverted by a reliance on predictable and humdrum action tropes to drive the conclusion. Had this movie stuck with the brevity and vagueness of its foundation, a brilliant survival-thriller would have been born.
"Yes, we are watching O Brother Where Art Thou again."