10 CLOVERFIELD LANE Review
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
J.J Abrams’s 2008 found footage vehicle CLOVERFIELD remains an enduring piece of kaiju entertainment, carefully toeing the line between a genuine horror film and a lighter, PG-13 action caper. The fact of the matter remains that CLOVERFIELD was and always will be an entertaining spin on the found footage formula, tasking itself with affixing explosive set pieces to a subgenre that derived from the micro-budget successes of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Fundamentally, CLOVERFIELD was an oxymoron in execution, and this is perhaps the one thing it shares with its spiritual successor, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.
In exactly the same way that CLOVERFIELD turned a lo-fi aesthetic into a gargantuan spectacle, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE does the opposite, capitalizing on its namesake in order to build anticipation for an alien-infested thrill ride, only to deliver what can best be described as a 21st century slant on the indelible Kathy Bates horror film, MISERY. Edgier, more nuanced in its use of horror, and deeply psychological, it’s only fitting that 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE has been released exactly eight years after its predecessor, having given its audience enough time to grow up from the angsty 14-year-olds they once were to the now 22-year-old horror fans looking for a unique fix.
“So when we aren’t cooking… we’re cooking… get my drift?”
From its foundation, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is an experimentation in franchising, trying to tackle what exactly can be done with a cinematic universe that doesn’t feel recycled. Deciding to opt out of a traditional blockbuster and abandoning the found footage aesthetic was not only a wise decision, but it also allows for a deeper investigation of the hypothetical scenarios that would happen during an end-of-times narrative.
However, this does bring up a frustrating truth about the state of contemporary cinema. As all of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE’s best attributes begin to show themselves, one starts to notice that this film would never have been made without franchise attachment. By the end of the film, it becomes obvious that director Dan Trachtenberg’s film did not need to be connected to Abrams’ universe. The fact that the filmmakers are inadvertently landlocked to this franchise is also what keeps it from just being a competent film about the horrors of kidnapping and brainwashing.
About to tear up the fuckin’ dance floor, man
The result is a tense, claustrophobic, and often tormenting bunker thriller, propelled entirely by its three stars, sharp dialogue, controlled directorial work, and a frighteningly static camera that emphasizes the compressed space. On every cinematic front, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is fantastic filmmaking, but the similarities it bears to MISERY also play out to its detriment, owing everything from the film’s inciting incident to the antagonist’s blend of caretaker and sociopath to the Stephen King classic.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the narrative owes much of its suspense to John Goodman’s haunting performance. His characterization is so thorough that Trachtenberg is able to toy with audience sympathies to the point that viewers begin to consistently seesaw as to who is in the wrong. The character drama within the confined space is what makes 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE so compelling (and ultimately proof as to why it didn’t need to be a CLOVERFIELD film in the first place), and thanks to Goodman’s performance, the film manages to thoroughly distance itself from the Spielberg-style glitz that Abrams has become known for, both as producer and director.
With a bombastic third act that serves to remind viewers what it is they had initially bought tickets for, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE even manages to successfully please viewers who just wanted another alien romp. It becomes blatantly obvious where Trachtenberg’s film ends and Abrams’s begins, and in some ways this is a good thing, because it allows for viewers to decide when they wish to tune out and call it quits. As a result, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE finds itself in an awkward rut: It’s a fantastic film with brilliant writing, a compelling cast, and nuanced directorial work, but the frustrating mirroring of MISERY’s narrative also keeps the film just shy of ever feeling truly original. Instead, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is possibly the most successful exercise in finding new means to construct a canon, only to indicate everything that’s wrong about franchising in the first place.