10 Cloverfield Lane  is the feature film debut of director Dan Trachtenberg. The film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr. That’s all you really need to know. At this point, you should stop reading anything and everything more about this film and go in with as little knowledge and expectation as possible.
Marketing Monster. Seriously, ignore everything you possibly can about this film. Imagine that it still goes by its original script title, “The Cellar”. Pretend you didn’t hear it was supposed to be a “blood-relative” to 2008’s Cloverfield. Ignore the names of the producers attached to this (especially J.J. Abrams) and set any and all assumptions of plot aside. The marketing for this film oozes Abrams, the title is an instant hook to draw fans of the original found-footage monster extravaganza, and all of this may very well detract from what a fantastic production this all really is. This is not a monster movie. This was never intended to be a monster movie. This was a completely separate script that had an act three rewrite before production began to give an excuse to tether to an existing franchise. While this will absolutely guarantee a much wider audience grab and better box office success, it’s all a lie you should save yourself from. Just know the actors involved are terrific, the script is taught and stellar, and this completely stands well as its own thing. The less you know the better. The less you assume or expect, the more fun you’ll have.
John Goodman or John Badman? The film centers on a young woman (Winstead) who ends up in an underground shelter after a car accident. She awakes to learn that the outside is unsafe, some kind of attack has occurred and the air is deadly, and she’s going to need to bunker down for a while (how long? A year? Maybe two?) before it’s safe to leave. This news is delivered by the creator and owner of the shelter (Goodman), a man who exists in an unstable middle-ground between Boy Scout Prepared and Conspiracy Theory Crazy. This is where the tension mostly lives, in the uncertainty of Goodman’s character’s intentions. Is he lying? Is he crazy? Was there really an attack or is this a kidnapping? Goodman does a phenomenal job of playing around where things are never certain, making Winstead and fellow shelter buddy (Gallagher Jr.) guessing as much as the audience.
Miss. Smarty Pants. The script is very well done, building tension and mystery while allowing just enough to be seen or discovered to keep things bouncing between certainty and uncertainty. Once the characters (and the audience) seem to resolve a question another that is completely unexpected comes to light. The characters placed within this scenario only bolster the engagement factor. What’s incredibly refreshing is that Winstead’s character is intelligent as hell. She knows how to use her head, utilize her surroundings, and figure shit out. She’s the anti-damsel in distress, and it makes for a much more riveting storytelling experience. This is a perfectly crafted drama/mystery/thriller, and that’s mostly thanks to the characters being given enough brains and mystique to make them magnetizing figures.
The Facts. In the end, this is a wonderful feature film debut, and a superb addition to the genre. Its single location setting and lack of monstrous destruction will disappoint those paying IMAX price for a Cloverfield sequel, and those less informed may be caught off guard by some third act events, but this should please pretty much everyone else who’s in for a tense mystery lead by a clever cast.