“There’s a monster outside my room, can I have a glass of water?”
Dan Trachtenberg’s rise to feature film director is a unique story that seems perfectly fit for the 21st century. Trachtenberg was first noticed for his fan fiction film based on the cult video game Portal. The Portal film took YouTube by storm and received loads of fanfare. After Damien Chazelle was forced to drop out because of his passion project Whiplash being picked up, Trachtenberg was hand picked by J. J. Abrams and the Bad Robot staff. What is incredibly unbelievable is the fact that nothing was leaked about the production of 10 Cloverfield Lane. In the modern era of Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, somehow a sequel to a movie that made over $170 million at the box-office was a complete secret.
Calling 10 Cloverfield Lane a sequel isn’t exactly true. It’s more of a spiritual sequel than anything else. The story is fairly simple. Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, decides to leave her fiancé and begins driving. After getting in a car accident, she wakes up in an underground bunker. Two men have sealed themselves in a fallout bunker with her. They claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack. The cast primarily consists of just those three characters. John Goodman stars as Howard, the owner of the bunker, and John Gallagher Jr. plays Emmett.
The three actors each do a wonderful job. John Goodman has long been loved in film circles for his wide range of talents. As Howard, he does a great job of playing everything from creepy to sympathetic. Goodman’s performance is the most nuanced of the film, and his Howard feels like it could only be played by him. It’s strange how Goodman can play the teddy bear and the grizzly in the same scene. Winstead is the lead of the movie, and much like her other roles, she brings a grace and style to the screen reminiscent of the Golden Age. Winstead has toiled in remakes and indie classics for far too long. This should be her breakthrough role. Not to be out-done by the heavyweights, John Gallagher Jr. delivers an excellent performance himself. As Emmett, Gallagher must be the humor and the heart of the film. Something similar to his role in Short Term 12. Obviously, these two films are nothing alike, but the deftness with which he handles the character of Emmett rings true to the character of Mason in Short Term 12.
Perhaps the biggest star when everything is said and done will be Dan Trachtenberg. I was taken back by the first few moments of the film. Trachtenberg’s eye for detail was captivating. A perfect example is Winstead’s character opening a drawer with a screwdriver, not because she was breaking into it, but because this was her home and that’s how the broken drawer was opened. Trachtenberg keeps the film moving and taut. His skill is natural, and this bodes well for future projects.
10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t without its problems. For a solid hour and twenty minutes, the film keeps us guessing and on the edge of our seats. There are slight contrivances along the way, but for the most part, the movie does a good job of smoothing them out. But then the end happens. The end feels somewhat clichéd and lifeless. I’m not sure if the problem comes from the script or from possible studio meddling. Whoever is to blame, let’s just say a potential all time great film is undercut by two unnecessary scenes.
Just because 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t great doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Dan Trachtenberg is a name that will be on my list of directors to watch out for. He is talented and seems ambitious. He has a visual style that sets him apart from other up and coming directors. He did a great job of patiently building characters, and he never took the easy way out. The three leads are marvelous, and I couldn’t have asked for a better cast. The story is fun, chaotic, and thrilling. The script is almost perfect with a slight deviation at the end, which unfortunately hampers the potential for greatness. In the era of on-set leaks and set photos, 10 Cloverfield Lane feels fresh, but at the same time a throwback. Cherish this moment because it might never happen again.