10 Cloverfield Lane: Stress and Claustrophobia – If you’re fixing to be tense for two hours

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Eight cramped air ducts out of 10

10 Cloverfield Lane actually began its life as an ultra low budget spec script called The Cellar, meant to be produced on a threadbare budget. The script originally began with a girl waking up in a man’s basement, where she is told that he rescued her from a car crash and that she can’t leave because a Martian invasion has left the air above poisoned. This plot largely remained intact after the film was rewritten once J.J. Abrams picked it up.

Under Abrams, the film became a spiritual successor to 2008’s Cloverfield, and was able to pick up John Goodman and Mary Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Death Proof) as leading actors. The larger than intended budget proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the film.

Goodman and Winstead put out stellar performances, with Goodman’s quietly intense character always appearing to be on the edge of eruption. Winstead’s believable anxiety around him helps build his character, making him truly terrifying in the film’s climax. On top of that, certain set piece moments look incredible, instead of simply having to be shot around. However, they come at the expense of one of the films major conflicts.

In the original script of The Cellar, viewers were meant to have no idea of whether or not there really were any aliens. But tying the film into the Cloverfield universe removes what should have been a major source of suspense. We know the aliens are real at a time in the film when we really should be uncertain of everything, and for some that might outright ruin the film.

In my opinion, 10 Cloverfield Lane still possess more then enough anxiety and conflict to make it an engaging film, but even I can’t help but admit that it could have been improved by merely changing its title. Aside from that, the film is competently shot and excellently paced.

Considering it’s his directorial debut, Dan Trachtenberg does a fine job with the film. I hope that the meekness of his camera-work will fade with time, but the cinematography is solid and ultimately it’s an excellent first addition to his filmography.

Between Goodman’s performance and its many claustrophobic scenes, 10 Cloverfield Lane could have been a physically exhausting film to watch. However, its interspersed with calm lulls to balance out its intense moments. Acting in conjunction these two make for excellent pacing, which is impressive considering the raw tension of the film. All thrillers are inherently intense, but 10 Cloverfield Lane stands out as a uniquely stressful film. I felt genuine anxiety watching it, which ultimately was the goal of the film. Personally eliciting genuine emotion is always in the favor of a film, but some just might not be interested in being stressed for two hours.

Oftentimes someone might look to a film as an opportunity to relax and unwind, but 10 Cloverfield Lane simply isn’t that. Beyond that, its an excellently acted and paced film impressive for its limited use of space. I was delighted to find a movie this good releasing in what is normally a Post-Oscars drought.