Although I liked Cloverfield (2008), 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) was a film I forgot to see when it was first released. I wanted to see it because I liked the first one and because I have liked John Goodman in almost everything I've seen him in. I even remember seeing a trailer for the film and wanting to see what he'd do with a role like this. But for whatever reason, I forgot all about 10 Cloverfield Lane until stumbling across it recently. Kind of like Don't Breathe, this is a film that is tricky to review without giving too much away and ruining it. Once again, I'll be careful not to do that.
To say that I came into 10 Cloverfield Lane with few expectations would be an understatement. I don't recall reading any reviews of it, and I remembered only 3 things about it: John Goodman was in it, it had something to do with an underground bunker, and it should not be considered a sequel to Cloverfield in that it bore little resemblance to the first film. Now that I've seen it, I'd have to say that this last point is fairly close to being accurate. Someone watching this film because they want Cloverfield 2 is likely to be disappointed. This film is so divorced from the previous one that one can safely watch it without ever having seen Cloverfield. It really is its own story, and a much better one, in my opinion.
Whereas Cloverfield was a fairly traditional monster flick, apart from using way too much of the found-footage shaky-cam style that can't disappear soon enough, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a slow-moving and suspenseful thriller. Although I can see why it would be lumped in with the horror genre, it delivers primarily psychological horror. You won't find cheap scares, gore, overblown sets, or excessive CGI here. I really see this one more as a psychological thriller.
The film opens with the female protagonist getting into a car accident. She wakes up in what initially appears to be a hospital room with an IV in her arm, and she looks moderately banged-up. As the camera reveals more, we see that this is no hospital and that she is chained to the wall. Something isn't right. John Goodman's character enters, and the tension starts to build as we desperately try to figure out what is happening. We quickly learn that she is in an underground bunker. Did he abduct her? Is he crazy? Is he going to hurt her? Why is she being restrained? We soon meet the third character of the film, but he raises more questions than answers.
According to Goodman's character, the three have no choice but to remain sealed in the bunker because an "attack" of some sort (nuclear, chemical) has made it impossible to venture outside. The air itself appears to be poisonous, and there is evidence that breathing it may be fatal. But how safe is it inside the bunker? This is the true genius of the film: we aren't sure whether the bunker is a refuge from unknown horrors outside or a prison run by someone who seems to be teetering on the edge of madness. We are presented with evidence that both could be the case, and the film plays on this uncertainly quite effectively.
Most of the film takes place in the bunker and involves a combination of mounting tension, false leads about what is going on and who is telling the truth, and great acting. While the female lead (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and other male character (John Gallagher Jr.) are more than adequate in their roles, Goodman is brilliant in this performance. He creates enough initial uncertainty for the audience that our impression of him keeps changing. There is clearly something off about him, but it takes awhile to figure out whether he's truly dangerous or just misunderstood and frustrated. Most of the roles I've seen him in have been more comedic; this role allowed the actor to come out. This is easily the best performance I've seen from Goodman by far.
Even though I have to admit that I was disappointed with the ending, I loved 10 Cloverfield Lane. I am kicking myself for not seeing it sooner than I did. I would definitely see it again, as I am confident that there were subtle things I probably missed the first time around. For fans of slow-moving psychological thrillers who don't mind a director who toys with your emotions to create tension and dread, 10 Cloverfield Lane is easy to recommend.