Let's get this out of the way at the outset – 10 Cloverfield Lane is really good, bordering on great. The final act doesn't hold up to the level of the rest, but in a unique way, it doesn't really detract from the effectiveness of the story's main arc.
When Cloverfield first came out back in 2008, it too had a marketing campaign that teased at the premise, but didn't show all of its cards. Was it a monster movie (for a long time the rumor was that it was actually a code name for a Godzilla project)? Was it an alien invasion movie? Was it action or horror? In the end we found out that it was a bit of column A and columns B-D as well.
10 Cloverfield Lane is not — in any real fashion that is revealed within the narrative — a sequel, prequel, or even clearly within the same world as the first film. What the Cloverfield name does promise is uncertainty though most of the film; and that makes for some incredible suspense. Its genre lies far more in the realm of thriller and suspense than in anything else. It's the kind of thing that these days M. Night Shyamalan would sell his soul to be able to pull off, and first time director Dan Trachtenberg has pulled it off amazingly well.
To say that it's a small ensemble cast is an understatement. There are only eleven members of the cast in total, and of those nearly half are drivers-by or a voice on the radio. The more I think about the film the more it really works for me. I don't know how it'll do on repeat viewings. But at the same time, it just feels like I need to see it again because in every scene there's the sense that something else is going on just beyond what's on the surface.
Bear McCreary's score is a physical presence in this film; at times the mix is almost too strong and blaring. It is most noticeable when the audience it meant to feel uncomfortable, and that something is about to come unwind like a clock's spring. If that was the intent, then truly well played.
If next year's award season doesn't at least acknowledge John Goodman for his work in this film as Howard with some nominations, there's no justice in the world. Yes, he's the same comedic actor that was the goofball on Roseanne, Saturday Night Live, and many other shows. This time he is so far to the other side of the dramatic spectrum that he's just fascinating to watch.
Ok, it's time to jump into spoiler territory.
In only one of the trailers did I get the feeling that Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was a captive or prisoner of some kind, and that led to the feeling of trying to figure out what's going on in the lead up of the film. During the viewing, we're really not fully aware of the purpose of her having been brought to the shelter by Howard. Because of that we don't know if he's evil, good, crazy, or somewhere in-between. At the point in time when Michelle has her accident, there's been no sign that anything is amiss in the outside world beyond a passing radio news broadcast of widespread power outages.
There's a wide range of story threads that relate to the situation within the shelter and to the individuals living there, but not that many of them are neatly tied up at the end. Not so much to suggest that there will be sequels related to them, but that life doesn't have all the answers, and that leaves the imagination to go in a range of directions about various aspects of the backstory. Where in many films it would have been annoying, here it works. This film is all about the layers.
It's a really good film, and if this is any sign of the kind of skill we can look towards from Mr. Trachtenberg, then he's going to have a long and successful career in keeping us on the edges of our seats.