"10 Cloverfield Lane" is going to be a love it or hate it movie for general audiences. The people who enjoy the film's first two acts are probably going to hate the third and those who are only after what the third act promises are going to be bored with the first two. In order to get into those details, this review will have to rely on being spoiler-heavy. Now, this is a fantastic film to go into blind, so if you still want to be surprised by the film, quit reading now.
SPOILERS: "10 Cloverfield Lane" tells the story of Michelle, (an excellent Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who has just had a huge fight with her fiancé and taken off. As she is driving through the country, she gets in a car accident and wakes up chained to a wall in a concrete room. Her "caretaker" is Howard, played by an intensely excellent John Goodman. He tells her that there was some sort of end of the world-style attack outside and that he found her unconscious and saved her life.
She is in Howard's doomsday bunker, complete with working kitchen, jukebox and plenty of other amenities. Also in the bunker is Emmett (the always reliable John Gallagher, Jr.), a country boy who helped Howard build the bunker and fought to get down there after he saw massive explosions in the distance.
Michelle believes she has been kidnapped and starts planning an escape. After seeing some horrific things from the hatch of the bunker, she realizes things are definitely not okay outside, but Howard is also a very unstable host. A huge part of the mystery of the first two acts is whether Howard is actually a good guy or a deranged creeper with only bad things on the brain.
One thing audiences will notice is the word "Cloverfield" in the film's title, connecting it to the 2008 found footage monster movie "Cloverfield." Folks who were fans of "Cloverfield" will especially wonder how the films are connected, as the first two-thirds of "10 Cloverfield Lane" essentially play out as a locked room chamber mystery with three characters.
Just having the name "Cloverfield" in the title should let audiences familiar with the original know what to expect and whether Howard is delusional or prophetic, and this is where the issues audiences might have with the film pile up. The first hour and change of this film are a slowly ratcheting master class in psychological thriller filmmaking. The script luxuriates on these characters and gives excellent insight into how their minds work, while also moonlighting as an intense mystery.
Michelle eventually realizes Howard is both insane AND right about the attack, but she would rather take her chances outside. Instantly, the film then switches gears into a sci-fi action flick which might throw general audiences for a loop.
The problem is that people who enjoyed the slow burn psychological thriller aspects of the first two thirds will invariably be disappointed when things become more action driven, and the folks who came expecting "Cloverfield 2" will be bored waiting to get to the fireworks factory.
Ignoring audience expectations altogether, the film is pretty great as it stands. Its connections to "Cloverfield" are tenuous enough to act as a world builder for an entire series of alien invasion anthology-esque films that take place in this world that J.J. Abrams and team have created. The final few minutes of the flick are disappointingly open-ended, leaving plenty of room for explorations of the "Cloverfield" universe from completely different angles.
There are a few huge missteps (the last few minutes with Goodman, in particular), but overall, "10 Cloverfield Lane" is a genre-defying and fascinating thriller, and it's impossible to look away. It has something to offer everyone willing to go along for the ride.
"10 Cloverfield Lane"
Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Now Playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX