10 Cloverfield Lane is an intense drama that covers a multitude of genres, including drama, thriller, comedy, horror and science fiction. The film opens with a young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) contemplating ending a relationship. She then leaves her engagement ring and keys in the apartment and drives in solitude down long and winding country roads. The music is loud and almost overbearing with little natural background noise and with no words spoken. Her ringing cell phone and fiance’s voice are the first real sounds heard. Michelle has run away after a minor argument (a sure indication of an abused childhood). Shortly after, the sudden loud noise of a car crash shocks the audience out of their reverie of a broken relationship and Michelle wakes up, handcuffed and in a basement – a drip attached to her arm and a splint on her knee.
John Goodman plays the eerily menacing Howard who exudes an undercurrent of danger. He is first portrayed as a fruitcake conspiracy theorist and Michelle’s naturally suspicious nature means she disbelieves him. She can only see him as dangerous and she uses that to her advantage during the first dinner with her, Howard and the other occupant, Emmett, and makes her first escape attempt. A dramatic turn of events (which again make the audience jump) means she is proved wrong, forcing her to accept life in the bunker. There is no conspiracy and validates the fact that Howard contracted Emmett to build the shelter and that Emmett ran there when the invasion commenced.
But normality does not last long and once again conspiracy theories loom large. Vehicles are heard overhead and then the air filtration system breaks. In true thriller style, Michelle has to crawl through the narrow air vents to reach the unit and restart it. The claustrophobic tunnels leave the viewer waiting for the next shock moment which this time fails to arrive. Instead Michelle discovers another clue is found that leads her and Emmett to suspect Howard again, and the pair formulate a plan to escape. Suspicion and tension is created between characters, answers found and an equilibrium reached, until doubt surfaces again. This pattern is repeated throughout with an intensity that continually builds, with confrontations and moments that make you jump, even though you suspect they are coming.
JJ Abrams has produced a rollercoaster of a ride, together with Dan Tratchenberg in his first outing as a feature film director. The limited setting of the bunker and the cast of three work well to create an uneasy atmosphere and one of fairly constant suspicion, but also with a healthy dose of humour. Mary Elizabeth Winstead shines as the young woman who does not know who or what to believe, and in the last ten-fifteen minutes articulates this (as does the audience at this point), with a very apt swear word. The conclusion of the film yet again has a twist and a change of genre. Whether this continues to engage the audience or not, the tight acting and directing will not disappoint.