‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ Is Not the Sequel You’re Expecting — It’s Better

Get yourself to a movie theater, stat.

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I assume 99% of reviews for 10 Cloverfield Lane will start with some sort of warning about how this movie is best experienced cold — and this one is no different. If you’re at all vaguely interested in the film based on your affinity for Cloverfield, or even if you’d never heard of it and the mysterious teasers piqued your interest, stop reading right now, and just go see this movie. There won’t be any real spoilers here, but you’ve been warned!

Before the surprise trailer debuted online on January 14th, nobody even knew 10 Cloverfield Lane existed. As soon as that happened, the internet was already theorizing about what it all meant, and for good reason.

Cloverfield is symbolic because of the enigma that surrounds it — any movie-lover is likely familiar with its legacy. On the night of the original Transformers release in July of 2007, Paramount and J.J. Abrams stealthily dropped the original Cloverfield trailer, without any title or indication of what the hell it was. The internet collectively lost its fucking mind.

For the next six months, film nerds all speculated wildly as Paramount fed us a steady IV drip of vague information until the film’s January release. There were viral websites, tangentially-related-but-not-quite-relevant easter eggs (remember Slusho, you guys?), and video clips. At first, people thought it was a new Godzilla movie, then they were positive it was a big-budget, live-action Voltron movie, but the beauty of it all is that nobody had a clue. Paramount somehow managed to pull off this lightning-in-a-bottle move yet again, and as a result, 10 Cloverfield Lane is untainted by relentless promotion and about as pure and exciting as moviegoing experiences get these days.

The film opens with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packing up her apartment and leaving her fiancé. As she drives down the highway contemplating her big decision, she gets in a terrible car wreck, and wakes up in some doomsday prepper’s (John Goodman) basement, chained to the wall. Howard (Goodman) tells her there’s been an attack, the outside air is toxic, and everybody she knows and loves is dead. There’s also a nice man named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) living in the shelter, and he seems to be buying whatever Howard is selling.

The beauty of 10 Cloverfield Lane (and the original film) is that our knowledge is limited to that of the characters. Not only do we never know what’s going to happen next, but we also don’t know what, or who, to believe. Is it actually the end of the world, or is John Goodman just out of his goddamned mind?

As the mystery unravels in real time, there’s never a moment when a foreboding sense of danger isn’t permeating the story. The attention to detail here is so astounding that even seemingly inconsequential effects — say, the sound of a door closing or a nail hitting the floor — becomes grating and horrifying. Loud music cues may be responsible for a lot of the big scares, but they’re only there to emphasize already terrifying scenarios.

One of the big “twists” is something that several episodes of Criminal Minds and plenty of other movies have already done, but it’s the manner in which it’s revealed that makes it so impactful. Nothing in 10 Cloverfield Lane is overtly explained through crappy exposition or stilted dialogue, and it’s beyond refreshing to watch something unfold so naturally. It’s also not afraid to provide just enough framework and information to allow viewers to easily fill in the gaps themselves, and a lot of intricacies are cleverly open to interpretation.

There’s one impeccably written scene in which the three leads are playing a game of charades. This superficially innocuous sequence actually winds up revealing vital information about Howard’s motivations without ever explicitly stating them, and those paying attention will connect the dots. This inherent trust in the audience is pretty something that’s far too infrequent in studio films, so embrace it.

Both Winstead and Gallagher Jr. are great here, but Goodman steals the show with what’s easily his most memorable role in years. It’s his meticulous, disquieting performance that gives the film its edge and ramps up the suspense. The film is almost entirely a three-hander with these characters, and every scene drips with tension and intensity, which is absolutely accentuated by the fact that Paramount has been so hush-hush about it.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a rare feat, and its existence is truly an anomaly in Hollywood. In an age where movie bloggers are all vying for the next big scoop, the sheer joy of experiencing a movie completely in-the-dark cannot be overstated. Do yourself a favor, and in the immortal words of the Coen Brothers’ criminally underrated A Serious Man, accept the mystery.

10 Cloverfield Lane will be released on March 11th, 2016.