|'The Hitchcockian set-up is simple but remarkably effective, with the uncertainty of what has happened to the world outside the bunker used to full effect'.|
"Monsters come in many forms", declares the tagline to 10 Cloverfield Lane. Ambiguous to an extent, the most obvious interpretation of this statement - certainly after watching the film - is that it relates to Howard (John Goodman), within whose underground bunker much of the film takes place.
It's a label, however, which does the character as a cinematic creation something of a disservice. Whilst a number of Howard's actions throughout the story could easily be described as monstrous, he's never a straightforward antagonist of the type seen in many Hollywood blockbusters. Goodman's performance, coupled with Dan Trachtenberg's impressive direction and some fine writing from Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken and Damien Chazelle, means that for much of the running time we're just as unsure of Howard's true nature as Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), the two people sharing the bunker with him.
As casting decisions goes, 10 Cloverfield Lane probably couldn't have got things any more right. As Howard, Goodman is perfect, the actor able to showcase everything from subtle humour to genuinely unnerving behaviour that makes him one of the most consistently excellent and criminally underrated performers working today. Whilst Howard is likely to be the figure who leaves the greatest impression, Winstead also deserves considerable credit, crafting many of 10 Cloverfield Lane's most tense and memorable moments opposite Goodman and bringing satisfying development to Michelle as the film progresses. Whilst this is a two-hander in essence if not in execution, the story would certainly lack both the intrigue and heart added through Emmet if Gallagher Jr. wasn't there to provide his presence.
The Hitchcockian set-up is simple but remarkably effective, with the uncertainty of what has happened to the world outside the bunker used to full effect. The film's ties to Cloverfield (producer J. J. Abrams has described it as a "blood relative" of the 2008 film) suggest one idea; Howard's explanation puts forth another which plays smartly into current paranoia regarding the threat of terrorism. Trachtenberg has fun pulling the audience in different directions for much of the film, telling us enough to confirm that something has definitely happened, but keeping back key details to draw out the mystery for as long as possible.
Whilst being quite different in style to most other monster movies, 10 Cloverfield Lane nonetheless shares the problem of its forebears - including Cloverfield - of losing some of its palpable intrigue once Trachtenberg decides to finally lay all his cards on the table. The closing fifteen minutes essentially take the film in a markedly different direction and will undoubtedly be the section that splits opinion the most. No matter your opinion on the director's chosen conclusion, however, there's no denying that everything up to that point is executed brilliantly.