10 Cloverfield Lane - Mary, This is Not 'Nam. There Are Rules.

10 Cloverfield Lane Poster

A movie so racked with tension, so claustrophobic and stressful, I threw my hands in the air and yelled "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck" while pacing in circles not once but twice. And that was on my second viewing in the comfort of my own home.  

10 Cloverfield Lane

Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg 
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr. 
Release Date: March 11, 2016
Run Time: 103 minutes


On January 15th of this very year I was crashing at a friend's apartment. He was retelling another vague story full of half truths and embellishments as I politely nodded and scrolled through my Twitter feed, unsure of why I had come over in the first place. Out of nowhere the news broke: there’s a Cloverfield sequel coming out in two months and boom here's a trailer. I flipped my shit and kicked my feet like a child while watching. I was so excited that not even yet another joke he stole from a Let's Play slamming into my cerebrum could ruin my high. I was punch drunk on Shiner Bock and John Goodman. It might have giant monsters, it might not. Either way it'll be a cold day in Hell before I miss it. 

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has had a rough argument with her fiancĂ© and needs to get away and clear her head. She leaves her fancy apartment in New Orleans and drives through rural Louisiana until she’s involved in a horrible car accident in the dead of night and knocked unconscious in the aftermath. She awakens in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman), who claims to have found her on the side of the road and brought her back to safety, and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who claims to have witnessed the beginnings of some sort of attack on U.S. soil that occurred while she was still out. That supposed attack caused Howard to lock the three of them deep underground, safe from the fallout that he claims has killed everyone above ground. Now she must piece together what’s true (if any of it), if they are who they say they are, and how to escape - if there’s even anything to escape to. 

10 Cloverfield Lane cast at the dinner table
Stop looking at her she's with me and she loves me and I love her and we're going to be together forever and she's beautiful and

That's all I'm telling you about the plot. Winstead wakes up in the bunker 10 minutes into the movie and the remaining 90 follow her through a tension filled, white-knuckling, claustrophobic nightmare. She didn’t ask to go into that bunker. The last thing she remembers was she was driving in the middle of the night in Bumfuck, Louisiana and now she’s handcuffed to a pipe and a 400 pound caveman is telling her he found her, brought her here, and she can’t leave because there was a biological attack that rendered the Earth’s surface completely uninhabitable. So she’s locked in an underground bunker for what could be a month, a year, or forever with John Goodman. You can’t leave so you might as well roll the dice and hope he’s a big fuzzy teddy bear and you’re the Boo to his Sulley.

Whoops: snake eyes. Sorry about your bad roll but you’re confined in an inescapable subterranean terror-condo with Robot Santa. You as the viewer spend the entire movie in Winstead’s perspective trying to get a read on him. Why did he bring her there? Was there really an attack? Is it actually unsafe above ground? Does he have an ulterior motive? Oh fuck, does he think we’re going to repopulate the species? On top of all of the questions that come with her unique predicament, Mr. Goodman has a bit of an anger issue. On the surface he’s warm, protective, and even a bit fatherly at times, but it’s undermined by a seething rage lying in wait beneath his paternal persona. When it boils over - and oh sweet Jesus does it boil over, no matter how low you sink into your seat - it’s sudden, it’s loud, and it’s accompanied by a very real sense of danger. At any point an otherwise inexplicable action could set him off and that could be the end of you. There’s a scene early on with the 3 roomies at the dinner table, and it’s the most tense and uncomfortable thing I’ve seen in a film in a long time. You could cut the tension with a butter-knife, then he would flip the table and scream at you for using his personal butter-knife. 

Furious John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane
Do you see what happens Mary? Do you see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps?

Goodman’s performance is the standout, but that’s not to say the others don’t pull their weight (pun mostly intended). I’ve barely mentioned John Gallagher’s character because to be honest he’s mostly there as a bit of relief from the tension between Goodman and Winstead. He provides much needed levity in a nerve-wracking movie. Without him, it would be nonstop awkward silences and violent outbursts and I would be ripping my hair out from the stress. He’s great in his role, his role just isn't nearly as glamorous as the other 2 characters.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivers the best performance of her career. I’ve seen her as a bright spot in a lot of garbage, so it’s refreshing to see her work with a good script. Her chemistry with Goodman and Gallagher elevates Cloverfield Lane from a decent thriller to a standout genre flick. She’s thrown into a terrifying situation and although she’s scared - as anyone would be - she is never weak and feeble. She is constantly digging up information on her hefty captor or plotting an escape. She’s never a passive character or a distressed, helpless little girl that needs to be carried to safety. She doesn’t make typical horror movie decisions and she’s never 10 steps behind the audience. She’s intelligent and proactive, and as such you root for her. The teeth-grinding tension works on such a high level because you actually care what happens to her. You’re trapped with her in a claustrophobic shelter with absolutely no indication of how long she’s been trapped. All you want is for her to get out of there alive before the credits roll. You’re emotionally invested in her getting the fuck away from him and his llama. 

I’m gonna ever so briefly touch on the third act. No spoilers, but if you know anything about Cloverfield you know there’s a twist. All I’m gonna say is it will make or break the movie for a lot of people. I can’t speak for those that say it ruined the movie for them because I honestly don’t get it. To me it’s like eating a big delicious steak dinner, and when I’m about to pay my bill and leave the waiter brings me a big ass slice of cake on the house. Was it necessary? Absolutely not, but when has that ever mattered in horror? 

Even more furious John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane
Oh my God for the love of Jesus Christ in Heaven just do what he says, he's so fucking pissed he can't even keep his eyes open. Please GOD just do what he says and get through this dinner I can't watch this

10 Cloverfield Lane appeared out of thin air in a surprising move amidst an industry that maps out releases all the way to 2020. It's a simple, stripped down concept done exceptionally well. One setting, 3 actors. If the writing doesn’t hold up the entire film falls apart at the seams. If there’s one weak link in a performance it loses the tension that drives the entire movie. I’ve been incredibly vague on the plot, and once you see it you’ll understand why. Cloverfield is filled with plot twists that ensure it’s always one step ahead of you. Every time you think you (and Mary) have figured everything out, the movie throws it right back in your face. Every new revelation feels earned, never like a cheat or that the film is breaking its own rules just to get one over on you. More importantly than that, you don’t figure everything out immediately and wait for the movie to catch up. You know, like another Bad Robot production. 

Fuck Into Darkness, fuck Khan, and fuck magic blood antidotes.  

As of right now, John Goodman’s performance is my favorite of the year by a pretty significant margin. Him glaring across the kitchen table while breathing heavily and repeatedly clenching and unclenching his fists is utterly bone chilling and that alone is more terrifying than any horror movie I’ve seen in years. 

Is it a sequel to Cloverfield? Is it in the same universe? Is the name the only thing in common? Who cares. If a proposed Cloverfield anthology series means getting more movies like this, I’m on board. As for director Dan Trachtenberg, this is about as strong of a debut as you can have. I went in with tempered expectations and left with what I still feel is a top 10 movie of 2016.


This movie review written by Big Bob Pataki. Comment below and tell him how wrong he is. No registering necessary (until one of you ruins it for everyone).

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