10 Cloverfield Lane

One of the joys of my experience watching 10 Cloverfield Lane is that I knew almost nothing about it going in, since über-producer J.J. Abrams kept the movie's very existence something of a secret until mere weeks before its release. In this spirit, I won't say much about it here.

That said, you remember Cloverfield, the 2008 found-footage-style movie about a giant, probably alien monster tearing Manhattan apart. I found the film a real pleasure (though I may be biased, since the Cloverfield Blu-ray is one of the coolest projects I've ever worked on). But that weighty word "Cloverfield" hangs over 10 Cloverfield Lane's plot like the Sword of Damocles: although the story, characters, and visual style of 10 Cloverfield Lane have absolutely nothing in common with Cloverfield, you just know something's going to happen that will tie the two films together thematically. And it's not just the occasional production design Easter egg. (Abrams' Bad Robot production company created a huge backstory to the Cloverfield saga during their online marketing campaign in 2007-2008, involving a mysterious Japanese oil company and its myriad subsidiaries; those familiar with the campaign will recognize the occasional visual reference in 10 Cloverfield Lane.)

I will say this, though: this film is fantastically tense, and John Goodman is especially great as a survivalist nut who has saved – or trapped? – a crushworthy Mary Elizabeth Winstead from uncertain doom by housing her in his underground bunker (along with John Gallagher Jr.). Most of the film is what you'd call a "three-hander": just three characters interacting with each other in a confined space. Yet 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn't feel stagy for an instant.

Dan Trachtenberg, making his feature debut, shows great promise. The script, by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle (who was supposed to direct until he got the green light for his own feature debut Whiplash), is smart and suspenseful. Prolific young composer Bear McCreary – best known for his work on Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead – delivers a big, booming score that some might find over the top, but it does add scope to this chamber piece of a film.

10 Cloverfield Lane may not be classic cinema, but it's a top-notch thriller and a fine example of what can be done with a limited budget when you have a strong script and a solid cast. It's definitely worth your time.