10 Cloverfield Lane might be the most expensive pitch video for a director who's trying to land bigger budgeted gigs. That's fine and all, but why should the general audience be expected to pay their hard-earned money to spend two hours on what's essentially some guy's resume? Yes, this claustrophobic thriller tries to build a mystery around a woman being held captive by a wacky doomsday prepper who swears that he saved her life from at attack that wiped out all life on earth, but the chief reason for its existence is for director Dan Trachtenberg to prove to studio bigwigs that he's capable of handling various genres and tones, with an obvious desperate plea to land the directing duties of a 200 million dollar franchise.
Don't be surprised if you see a Variety article in a couple of months about Trachtenberg being tapped to direct the next Marvel movie, or an episode in the next Star Wars trilogy, complete with a press quote from a studio head saying, "On the strength of 10 Cloverfield Lane's final ten minutes, we decided Dan Trachtenberg would be perfect to helm the next (Insert franchise here)."
10 Cloverfield Lane is basically an anthology movie with three distinct short stories. A lot of critics liken it to yet another feature length Twilight Zone episode. I don't think the comparison's that simple. What we get is a combination of three half hour episodes from three vastly different anthology series. If it was a true anthology movie with three separate shorts, that would have been okay, since there have been successful anthology features in the past that tried different genres with each short film. The problem is that 10 Cloverfield Lane tries to combine these three separate shorts with wildly shifting tones and genres into one story.
We begin with a fairly solid episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets into a horrible car accident while bailing out on his fiancée, only to wake up in a doomsday bunker operated by the highly unstable Howard (John Goodman), who insists that the world has ended after a mysterious large scale attack, and that his actions saved Michelle's life. Michelle rationally comes to the conclusion that Howard is a crazy person, and is using the apocalyptic story as an excuse to keep her as his prisoner. One of the most positive notes I can give 10 Cloverfield Lane is that Michelle isn't set up as yet another dumb victim, and actually makes some sensible decisions to get herself out of this predicament.
Michelle is determined to escape, but Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), another survivor living in the bunker, believes in Howard's story and claims that he saw the attack firsthand. After the mystery behind the attack is revealed, the story awkwardly transitions into an episode of Tales From The Crypt, thanks to an incredibly convenient and awkwardly introduced plot twist. After sitting through a borderline goofy horror flick, Trachtenberg ends on a classic Twilight Zone episode mixed with a special effects demo reel, in order to prove to studio executives that he'd be perfect to handle the next Guardians of the Galaxy if James Gunn ever decides to step out.
Yes, for a lot of directors, especially first timers who just got their foot in the door, whatever movie they're working on is almost always about landing "the next job", but I've rarely seen it done so obviously and with such a cynical disregard for narrative cohesion. Talking about cynicism, the movie has absolutely nothing to do with the 2008 found footage monster flick, at least as far as I can see. The final ten minutes might (Key word "might") be connected, but without spoiling anything, I can safely say that it was very hard to see the connection, at least in simple design terms.
The best element in 10 Cloverfield Lane is easily John Goodman's batshit crazy yet bizarrely controlled performance as the paranoid conspiracy theorist. Movies released this early in the year rarely get awards recognition, but I'll be glad to see a supporting actor nod for Goodman at next year's Oscars.