Are we to truly believe the apocalypse around us if a madman living in a bunker tells us the world has ended? No questions asked, hunker down and thrive underground with a selection of VHS tapes and a sufficient amount of canned soup. Director Dan Trachtenberg hunches down and hides away from the apocalypse. 10 Cloverfield Lane may not have much to do with the original Cloverfield beyond panic on the streets of America, but it is the rapid genre change and pacing decisions that make this such an impressive sequel. It is barely even a sequel. Moving so far away from the core elements of handheld horror at the heart of the original, 10 Cloverfield Lane fashions out its own strand of tension.
Drama stirs the heart of leading protagonist Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Had it not been for the less-than amicable separation from her fiancé, she would not be surviving underground. Had it not been for the awkward, spectacular performance given off by John Goodman, then perhaps this trio would have run riot in this survival bunker. Maybe then they would have been free to live in peace and harmony, away from the knowing, prying eyes of alien lifeforms and infected beings. Had Howard Stambler (Goodman) not been so creepy and deluded by his need to survive and preserve, then maybe, just maybe, 10 Cloverfield Lane would not have had the notes of disaster it soon follows through with.
That is an inevitability of the genre. We can go nowhere without panic and disarray. Had there not been the fear and loathing of Michelle in a cell, then 10 Cloverfield Lane would hardly have a story to present. There is a remarkable story of deceiving looks and the need to understand those that love a bit of privacy. Stambler is not a bad person, not necessarily. He is a man that opens his home comforts to two strangers because moral action compels him to do so. We cannot deny how ominous his process of living is, but the malicious intent is accidental. Those tense moments at the dinner table are found through a desire to live alone. Conveying the first half-hour as a thriller does not help his situation, but there are loopholes and tricks to be found with that line of argument.
Had it not been for the assumptions we can make from the title, 10 Cloverfield Lane could have opened with elements of Saw and the vicious horrors that come with that. No such luck, but Trachtenberg does not let it linger on his or his characters’ minds for too long. Goodman is a tour de force, and many may forget that. His work here is so far removed from the charming, comedic turns he has had. With a clear desire to change the way audiences perceive him, Goodman is given the go-ahead by Trachtenberg and is aided tremendously by strong performances from Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. Everyone works together with exceptional clarity, and despite the animosity displayed on the screen, it is through the chemistry of the cast and the bumps in the night provided by Trachtenberg that 10 Cloverfield Lane excels as both a character study and a piece of thrilling, chilling moviemaking.