10 Cloverfield Lane is an astoundingly bold and gripping genre movie that exceeded my expectations in just about every area. Its layers run so deep that even being more specific about what genre, exactly, I’m referring to would be a potential spoiler. I’ll do my best to avoid any of those, because this is definitely an experience you owe it to yourself to go into with as little information as possible.
The bulk of the film is premised around a young woman fleeing from an unwanted relationship (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who ends up in the underground survival bunker of a doomsday prepper (John Goodman) with a questionable degree of mental stability. Both of these performances were truly captivating. I’ve always known Winstead mainly as Ramona from Scott Pilgrim, one of my favorite movies of all time, but her complex heroine in 10 Cloverfield Lane has almost erased that association in my mind.
And John Goodman might go down as one of the most T-shirt-twisting, squirm-in-your-seat, utterly terrifying villains in modern cinema. My daily breakfast consists of spooky ghost stories on r/nosleep and the yearly parade of tired “horror” flicks that stake their reputation on demons/zombies/animated children’s toys popping out to startle you. At this point, I’m more likely to laugh than shriek at those formulas. And yet Goodman had me visibly upset, with an almost audibly elevated heart rate, for long stretches of 10 Cloverfield Lane.
The pacing is excellent for a script set primarily in an enclosed bunker. There are just enough hints dropped about what’s going on outside to keep you tied up in that mystery, wanting to know more. And as more is revealed about the characters on the inside, you start to wonder if maybe the most dreadful secrets of all have been staring you in the face the whole time.
If all 10 Cloverfield Lane had been was a claustrophobic exploration of grounded, realistic, human fear, I would have left the theater content and come home to stamp a silver medal on it. And if you want to know absolutely nothing else, this paragrpah is a good time to just hop down and see that I gave it gold, get in your car, and catch the next showing. If you’re not sold, read on, and I’ll tell you what really set this film apart for me (still doing my best not to spoil anything significant).
THIS SECTION CONTAINS POTENTIAL SPOILERS
What elevates 10 Cloverfield Lane to the point of being the best movie I’ve seen this year, and possibly in multiple years, is that it doesn’t end with something predictable like Winstead escaping the bunker and gasping at something off-screen. This is a science fiction movie, full stop. And the mystery of what’s happening on the surface pays out in huge, huge ways. You won’t be left wondering by the time the credits roll. You’ll know exactly what happened. And you’ll see it front-and-center, with no blurry shapes in the distance or major questions left unanswered.
That is what I truly admire about the film. It didn’t dial back on the sci-fi premise to preserve some arbitrary sense of legitimacy. It doesn’t try to be “deep” by leaving major, central questions about the nature of the plot for the audience to ponder. It’s not afraid to be what it is. The filmmakers realized that giving us straight answers and going all-out in the third act doesn’t compromise the character-driven, psychological and emotional beat-down that is the true heart of the film.
As director Dan Trachtenberg said in an interview with io9, “You get in the cars afterwards and you’re like ‘That was great, but wouldn’t it have been crazy if at the end THIS happened?’ And we finally did THAT. We finally made a movie doing that crazy thing you would have pitched in the car.” It was Trachtenberg’s willingness to do ‘THAT’ which made me fall in love with this movie, instead of merely remembering it fondly. And I’ll stop there, because I can’t really say much more about it without telling you what ‘THAT’ is.
YOU ARE NOW SAFE FROM POTENTIAL SPOILERS
10 Cloverfield Lane has earned its place in a pantheon of movies I will go out of my way to own (a rarity in these days of video streaming), praise to anyone who will listen, and call out as exemplars of their genres. It’s deserving of my highest recommendation with no reservations. I was terrified, perplexed, surprised, and ultimately, satisfied on every level. Don’t miss this one.
About Our Rating System:
The Loresworn Order reviews games, movies, TV, books, and music on a four-point scale.
- No Medal, “Not Recommended”
- Bronze, “Okay”
- Silver, “Good!”
- Gold, “Great!”