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Thursday, 10 March 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

(M) ★★★½

Director: Dan Trachtenberg.

Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

"What do you mean 'tabletop gaming'? It's a goddamn boardgame!"
WHAT is this film?

Is it a sequel to the awesome 2008 found footage monster movie Cloverfield or not?

The answer is definitely maybe. Cloverfield’s writer Drew Goddard, director Matt Reeves, and producer JJ Abrams all serve as either producers or executive producers, and the film theoretically could be taking place in the same filmic universe. Abrams has also called 10 Cloverfield Lane a “blood relative” of Cloverfield.

However he has also described the new movie as merely a “spiritual successor”, while some of the makers have said there are connections to Cloverfield, but that the movie exists in a different filmic universe.

So, as previously stated, it’s definitely maybe a sequel. Or not.

But what is this film?

The trailers gave away little so we’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible. The basic premise is that three people (played by Winstead, Goodman, and Gallagher Jr) are living in a well fitted-out bomb shelter. The hows and whys of them being there are the film’s raison d'être, as are the many further questions that come from the answers to those hows and whys.

Winstead is in every scene and does a great job. She’s our audience surrogate, but so much more – her character is plucky, brave and resourceful in between bouts of terror and the weird calms that come before the movie’s dramatic storms. Winstead handles all those highs and lows with aplomb.

Equally impressive is Goodman as Howard, the glue that holds the sheltered trio together. His turn is central to the film’s quirks and intricacies, and it’s one of his best performances outside a Coen Brothers movie.

It’s difficult to describe this film without giving anything away, but it runs the gamut of styles. It opens like an indie romance, swerves into Saw territory, settles into light comedy, adds large helpings of horror and sci-fi, and wraps the entire thing up in mystery. For the most part, this mixture works.

Its confined setting and story ramps up the claustrophobia and makes for an intriguing take on its subject matter that somehow suits this mish-mash of vibes. It unfolds in a solid way, letting the pacing ebb and flow, although it does leave many of its questions unanswered, which is largely a positive.

Unfortunately some twists feel like a stretch, keeping the film from being great instead of just good. However the biggest let-down is the whole Cloverfield connection. It’s unnecessary and potentially deliberately misleading – the fact the film started life as an unrelated script called The Cellar makes the whole Cloverfield thing a touch disingenuous.

But this compact little shocker is certainly fascinating and worth checking out, monster movie connections or no.

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