10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The new episode of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw video series looks back at 10 Cloverfield Lane, directed by Dan Trachtenberg

The episode of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw covering 10 Cloverfield Lane was Written and Edited by Paul Bookstaber, Narrated by Kier Gomes, Produced by John Fallon and Tyler Nichols, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

What do you get when Paramount Pictures has a film that comes out of nowhere back in 2008, on a budget of 25 million dollars, grossing a total worldwide haul of 172 million dollars? Still having trouble? Ok, what about a newly crafted franchise that puts much-needed life and glory back into the monster genre? The answer is simple, a sequel to that film, eight years later called 10 Cloverfield Lane (watch it HERE). Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut, 10 Cloverfield Lane was the highly anticipated sequel to Matt Reeve’s found footage monster flick Cloverfield. 10 Cloverfield Lane takes the massive scope of Cloverfield and condenses it into an intimate tale of survival and dread. But the most interesting thing about 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t the possibility of being eaten by a tentacle hell-monster straight from the depths of HP Lovecraft’s nightmares. It’s the metaphorical monster latched into one’s own soul that can manipulate control over others for their own sadistic glee. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a not so direct sequel to Cloverfield, giving very subtle hints that connect it to the first. Straying away from standard formula of sequels that we all dare to say become a little too repetitive for their own good, 10 Cloverfield Lane throws in a great ensemble, nerve-wracking tension, impeccable claustrophobic-inducing cinematography, and pesky bubbling acid that makes it one of The Best Horror Movies You Never Saw.

10 Cloverfield Lane flew under everyone’s radar when the teaser trailer debuted during the theatrical release of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi featuring that well-known dude from The Office, John Krasinski, and believe it or not, the other not-so-well-known dude from the office David Denman. The 10 Cloverfield Lane teaser is a perfect example of how movie marketing should be, the track of “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Ritchie Cordell playing over three characters sitting on a couch with board games and assembling puzzles, dancing to a jukebox; sharing what appears to be some bonding between established family members. But then the trailer unravels to something much more sinister and darker in tone. It shows us a fire rising on the floor, someone being locked to a chain, an awesome shot of realizing the three members are inside a bunker, John Goodman looking nutty and putting a glove on next to a black barrel of unknown deliciousness, and that final payoff of Mary Elizabeth Winstead cracking Goodman on the head with a glass bottle and running up the stairs only to see the horrors that await her. The final payoff is all of us seeing that Cloverfield title as it fades from black at the end of the teaser guaranteeing us the long awaited sequel, but was it a sequel that we deserved after so long?

10 Cloverfield Lane Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

New to the directing game was 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg, who didn’t really have much time in the command seat prior to this film. Dan Trachtenberg had a couple of shorts called “Kickin’,” and “Portal: No Escape.” He was also one of three hosts for the “Totally Rad Show,” and served as a co-host of the “Geekdrome podcast.” So, coming off these prior projects, and not having much skin in the game, it’s only fair to call this a Hollywood crapshoot with Dan Trachtenberg at the helm. With a script from Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken which originated as a low-budget thriller, Oscar winning Best Director, Damien Chazelle, yes, the same man responsible for films such as Whiplash, LaLa Land, and Babylon came aboard to do a rewrite and was asked to direct it. However, Damien Chazelle turned it down due to Whiplash getting the budget it needed and in came Dan Trachtenberg for the close. 10 Cloverfield Lane was on track for production and JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot was joining the ride again in hopes of it becoming another box-office darling in the Cloverfield universe.

10 Cloverfield Lane starts us with a normal establishing shot of Louisiana where we meet our main protagonist Michelle played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. We see she’s in a rush to pack up some clothes and belongings as well as leaving a beautiful engagement ring behind. We are traversing through the open road surrounded by trees and fields with Michele in the long hours of the night. Her soon-to-be- ex-fiancé Ben pleads with her to come back home, only to be denied one last time, sorry Bradley Cooper. While Michelle is listening on the radio to the weird power surges hitting the Southern Border, her car gets hit off the road and here begins Michelle’s journey into eventual madness. Shortly after Michelle wakes up from her beautiful slumber only to find out she was chained up, wounded, and desperate for help. A man opens the door to her room, giving her food and telling her she was saved by him and that she will need to regain her strength, supplying her crutches in the process. Michelle tries to subdue the man by starting a fire and hitting him with the sharp end of the crutch, only for Michelle to be subjected to the always handy anesthesia nap.

Once she awakes Michelle is informed the United States was attacked by either Martians or Russians, resulting in nuclear or chemical fallout, and killing everyone. Howard, introduces himself by name found Michelle overturned on the road and says she must stay there for one to two years to avoid being exposed to the outside contamination. Michelle sleeps and wakes up leaving her room and meeting Emmett, another survivor, played by John Gallagher Jr. While we spend a lot of time in this bunker being shown all the functionalities, it’s when it becomes more and more apparent that our buddy Howard isn’t who he seems. For Howard to make sure his guests believe his claims, he shows them CV Radio with no outside communication, pigs that deteriorated from the fallout outside, and air sealed doomsday doors. But Howard’s jig is up when Michelle sees Howard’s truck outside with paint marks on it. Michelle remembers a truck identical to Howards swiping her off the road causing her to do a few tumbles down the grass below.

Emmett tells Michelle he created the bunker with Howard, he wasn’t kidnapped, and witnessed the attacks firsthand which resulted in Michelle to double think her “kidnapping”. During the film you get to learn that even if Howard thinks his heroics are for the greater good, the underlying theme are the people you may know may be the monsters right in front of you, and it’s not the extraterrestrial kind. Howard loses his cool several times throughout the film, some resulting from Emmett’s chatter box mouth of his, or Michelle becoming playful and flirtatious with Emmett which is a tour-de-force scene with John Goodman. It’s a scene that shows just how paranoid, jealous, and malevolent Howard can really be if he sees things he doesn’t like. Something is deeply troubling and boiling in Howard that is yet to be exposed.

As the film eases down and Michelle starts to believe Howard with instances of random kindness and affection, a random woman appears outside the bunker with massive lesions across her face pleading for help to bring her in. Howard warns Michelle to not open the doors. Michelle puts her full trust in Howard. Howard also uncovers his past as being ex-military, having knowledge and experience of being a US Sailor that developed satellites. You kind of think that maybe Howard isn’t losing it and is telling the truth after all. We soon realize Howard is much more sinister underneath than we first noticed. He confides in Michelle by showing her a picture of his “daughter” only to find out the truth that it was a missing person in town that Howard resides in and was later kidnapped by Howard. Michelle comes to realize this when she is fixing the ventilation system and seeing a misplaced earring and the word HELP carved onto the skylight. Once loud-mouth Emmett is disposed of by Howard, Michelle takes matters into her own hands and does a last-ditch effort to escape, resulting in Howard to have a nice swim in hydrochloric acid and eventually blowing up inside his bunker.

The real turn of events is that we get more monsters but in extraterrestrial form which brings us back to our Cloverfield connections. Even though we don’t get the same monster from Cloverfield, we get something potentially in the same realm. It turned out our old pal Howard was telling the truth, and maybe he had something to do with the satellite that crashed at the end-credits of Cloverfield. Rumors speculated that the satellite that crashed awoke the monster from Cloverfield in the ocean. Coincidence? Maybe so!

The shining star of this film are its three main actors carrying the weight of its basic premise and setting on their shoulders. John Goodman of Roseanne and The Conners fame is the strong suitor here as Howard. He is an unpredictable force of nature having more mood swings than a rebel-angst teenager. There is a ferocity to Goodman, showcasing his trigger-pulling switch of malice in one scene or flipping into his ice-cream eating, and caring father figure to Michelle in another. This is one of Goodman’s best roles on screen, right up there with The Big Lebowski, Arachnophobia, and O Brother Where Art Thou?

10 Cloverfield Lane Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

Mary Elizabeth Winstead also has a solid history of films right up there with 10 Cloverfield Lane. She became a breakout in Disney’s Sky High, then joined good ol’ John McLane in Die Hard: Live Free or Die Hard. She also became McReady-Incarnate, scientist Kate Lloyd in 2011’s The Thing Prequel with Joel Edgerton, or who could even forget Ramona Flowers in the always amazing Scott Pilgrim vs The World with Michael Cera. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was in this film for 100% of it, showcasing her acting talents for the world to see and a good foil to John Goodman’s Howard.

And then there is John Gallagher Jr who plays the good-hearted Merc with the Mouth Emmett. John Gallagher Jr is no stranger to horror as he was in a solid slasher film called Hush on Netflix. He was also in the chaotic corporate building killfest, The Belko Experiment which also starred Michael Rooker, Tony Goldwyn, and John C. McGinley. John Gallagher Jr is always a solid role player wherever he pops up, making his role in 10 Cloverfield Lane just as memorable.

10 Cloverfield Lane was only a two-month shoot, extremely quick as it was only in one setting. After the dust settled on its theatrical release, it went on to gross 110 million dollars at the global box office on a budget of 15 million dollars, proving another successful win from Paramount and Bad Robot. Dan Trachtenberg also won “Outstanding Direction for First-Time Directing” by The Director’s Guild. Dan Trachtenberg’s achievement led him to direct a solid Predator film, called Prey which came out on Hulu in 2022. Critical reception for 10 Cloverfield Lane is exceptionally strong at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 79% audience score. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says, “The movie comes loaded with everything a psychological thriller needs to shatter your nerves – and then kicks it up a notch.” Fangoria Magazine states “Goodman’s swings from concern to rage and back are perfectly tempered every time, and Howard stands as both a great modern genre antihero and a new high-water mark on the actor’s résumé”.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a must-see horror film, even if you don’t watch Matt Reeve’s Cloverfield, it perfectly succeeds on its own merit as a standalone. What I do recommend however, is skipping The Cloverfield Paradox entirely which debuted on Netflix with more of a whimper than a bang. The Cloverfield Paradox was supposed to supply us with all the answers that were needed to close this universe, however left it more muddled than it intended. 10 Cloverfield Lane is quite simply a well-executed, perfectly balanced thriller that has a strong ensemble. The viewer is left wondering if Howard is a straight up psychopath with doomsday survivalist tactics or someone who is intending to save as many people as he can for his own good? Maybe he was looking for the perfect female in the apocalypse to build his own family with? Maybe it’s a bit of both when it lands on that final frame showing us bigger troubles that await Michelle on the road to Chicago. Maybe she should have stayed in that bunker after all.

A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.