’10 Cloverfield Lane’ – A small-scale story with big-scale tension

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Mary Elizabeth Winstead, left, and John Goodman in a scene from the film, "10 Cloverfield Lane." (AP)
Timothy Hogg

Timothy Hogg

 After surviving a sudden and violent car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens connected to an IV in a concrete room. She learns quickly from Howard (John Goodman), a paranoid conspiracy theorist, that the outside air is now toxic due to an attack by unknown enemy forces. Michelle meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), another guest of Howard’s hospitality, and soon the two begin searching for answers, wondering if anything in the bunker is as it appears.

Set almost entirely in a tiny and enclosed fallout shelter, “10 Cloverfield Lane” differs drastically from its predecessor by focusing on a smaller scale. The bunker accounts for almost ninety percent of the film’s settings, and this cramped, forbidding location is utilized to produce claustrophobic results. Almost every shot is done from an angle or perspective that toys with the limited space, ominously reminding the audience that there is no easy way out for the characters.

This singular space and tense atmosphere is compounded with introspective portrayals from the cast, which is limited almost exclusively to the three main characters. Goodman in particular plays a character that is both unnerving and menacing for the others to be around; they have no choice whether to trust him or not – it is only because of his limited generosity that they are alive. But how far they are willing to extend their trust – especially as more backstory is revealed – is a major plot point.

It is within this cramped setting that the characters’ true natures of paranoia and fear are allowed to manifest, resulting in some of the story’s more chilling and unsettling moments. Winstead and Gallagher serve as voices of reason for each other, contrasting Goodman’s more crazed performance. These interactions lead to a third act that, while tense, does seem to drag longer than it should. However, the success or shortcomings of the film’s finale may vary from viewer to viewer.

While the story expands upon high levels of tension and character interaction, this build up eventually takes a direction that is interesting, to say the least, although some may find it disappointing. It does lend credence to the character development, but it is somewhat distracting to provide definitive answers given the film’s almost ambiguous nature up to that point.

Trachtenberg certainly displays his ability as a thriller director with “10 Cloverfield Lane,” crafting a film that is enjoyably tense while exploring the psyche of paranoid minds. Although the story does take a few strange turns, at its core there are plenty of thrills and enough tension from the interactions of Winstead and Goodman to leave the audience frozen in anticipation.

My grade: 7.5 out of 10 stars.

(Timothy Hogg is a copy editor for The Derrick./The News-Herald. He has a minor in film and media studies from Slippery Rock University. Readers may contact him by email at timothyhogg.thederrick@gmail.com.)