10 Cloverfield Lane may exist as part of one of the loosest franchises in existence, but its place in Corner of Film’s Hall of Fame isn’t linked at all to those movies. 10 Cloverfield Lane shares a vague connection to Cloverfield and The Cloverfield Paradox, but all of its best aspects are unique to the film itself, and not a result of the wider franchise.
Following Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle after she flees her fiancé only to crash her car, 10 Cloverfield Lane sees her wake in an underground bunker with the overbearing Howard (John Goodman) and affable Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Howard explains to a confused Michelle that she cannot leave the bunker due to a chemical attack that has rendered the outside world uninhabitable.
The claustrophobic tension of 10 Cloverfield Lane is masterfully built thanks to excellent work from its actors. John Goodman in particular delivers a powerhouse performance as the complex and nuanced Howard, making for an antagonist with numerous layers that each add something very different to the tense atmosphere of 10 Cloverfield Lane.
For the entirety of its first two acts, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a straight-up psychological thriller. Unsure of whether or not she can trust Howard, whether or not he’s telling the truth about the world outside, and unsure of how much danger she’s in if she stays in the bunker, Michelle is trapped in her own doubts as she puzzles out her next move. With each new revelation, a new facet of Howard is revealed, and as Michelle’s image of him begins to fill out, the tension gradually increases.
10 Cloverfield Lane is very much a film of layers. There’s much more going on than it fully explains, and it’s only in its final scenes that this is truly revealed. However, with the film’s climactic escape only throwing Michelle into more danger – Howard was right, hostile creatures are attacking the Earth – 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s sudden sci-fi shift is jarring enough that it conceals the deeper meaning behind Michelle’s journey.
The themes of fear and regret are explicitly communicated throughout the film, but its ending doesn’t directly address them, making it feel like a strange shift in tone. However, the journey that Michelle’s imprisonment in the bunker has taken her on has made her more decisive and less afraid, spurred on by her own regrets to fight against her problems rather than running away. 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s ending completes Michelle’s arc in a subtly satisfying way, validating the themes of the film in an understated manner.
While the ending does work, it’s not achieved in a way that feels entirely organic. There are plenty of other ways to have paid off the film’s themes, but the use of the sci-fi element feels like a transparent and heavy-handed way of tying the film into the Cloverfield franchise. This itself is somewhat unnecessary, as 10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent film in its own right, and it feels a little as though the film ends and then keeps going for the sole purpose of continuing a franchise.
Ultimately, it’s the atmospheric tension and exceptional performance from John Goodman that makes 10 Cloverfield Lane a Hall of Fame film. It’s got a lot going for it – an intriguing premise, a tightly-written story, plenty of small details to unpack – but ultimately, it really shines in the way its story is told. The nerve-wracking way in which 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s events unfold puts the audience right there in the bunker with Michelle, and the fear that inspires is something that elevates the film beyond many traditional horror movies.
Summary: 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s vague status in the Cloverfield franchise is perhaps its worst aspect, because it’s a tense and deeply unsettling film bolstered by an career-best performance from John Goodman.
Highlights: John Goodman’s Howard suddenly murdering Emmett and validating all of Michelle’s fears is a shocking and spine-tingling moment that pays off the mounting tension in spectacular fashion.