10 Cloverfield Lane, the stunning and supremely confident directorial debut of Dan Trachtenberg, is likely to be another in a growing line of genre films hurt by its marketing (see also: The Babadook, It Follows and, most recently, The Witch). The big difference here is that 10 Cloverfield Lane invites it onto itself by virtue of its title and the "mystery box" approach employed by producer J.J. Abrams. Hopefully the marketing doesn't take away from the film itself, which is terrific.
I'll talk around spoilers -- again, because of the marketing this is a film about which people seem especially spoiler-phobic -- and begin by praising the performances of 10 Cloverfield Lane, two of which achieve genuine greatness. Gallagher Jr. is affable and everything, but he's completely outshone by Winstead and Goodman giving some of the very best performances of their careers. Goodman, an actor who makes everything in which he appears exponentially better just by virtue of his own participation, is doing some next-level shit here. Every time we think we know who he is or why he's doing what he's doing, Goodman shifts gears and forces us to reconsider. His best moments can't be discussed without spoiling certain developments, so I'll just say that he is alternately tragic and scary and monstrous and right.
Winstead's enormous, expressive eyes are constantly in a state of looking -- searching her surroundings for a tool or a way of escape or looking outside the frame at something in wonder. There are so many shots of Winstead looking in this movie and none of them feel repetitive, partly because Winstead is so good at communicating what is behind each look and partly because director Trachtenberg gives them each a different context. Despite the claustrophobia of what is essentially a single setting, Trachtenberg and DP Jeff Cutter keep coming up with new ways to shoot it, staging dozens of perfectly composed frames that communicate information visually without succumbing to first movie/bottle episode flash. Trachtenberg rivals some Spielberg in terms of knowing just where to put the camera. He does not misstep.
Signs-style obviousness. Probably a little of both. There are coincidences that arise out of convenience which wouldn't even phase me in any other movie, but because 10 Cloverfield Lane is so often committed to following through on its premise and affording the characters a great deal of intelligence and agency (seriously, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle never stops doing the right things even when she is unsuccessful) that it becomes a little jarring when those moments do come up.
And then there is the last act, which is the stuff that's really going to polarize the audience. To be honest, I liked these developments more before I came home and read more about them, because I interpreted them one way and then found out that I was wrong (it's impossible for me to say more). There's still great stuff in this section of the film, but it feels rushed and somewhat ported over from a different film -- like it's there so that the movie can fit inside a prescribed box. I understand why this stuff is frustrating for a lot of the audience, but I can see myself being more forgiving of it on repeat viewings when I know what to expect.Cloverfield brand. I'm not sure how I feel about that right now, as I feel like I can foresee what some of the problems of such a series might be. What I know is that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a fantastic little genre movie: expertly acted and directed with absolute confidence and precision. Even if there are some storytelling choices that don't land quite as well for me as some of the earlier beats, I cannot say enough about the filmmaking technique on display. Don't let marketing or expectations get in your way. There is so much to love with this one.