So what’s inside “10 Cloverfield Lane’s” mystery box? The first reviews of the J.J. Abrams-produced quasi-sequel don’t give much away, apart from what we already know from its elliptical trailer: John Goodman plays an apparently unstable man who’s locked Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher, Jr. in an underground bunker, in order to protect them from, well, something. Is it the monster from the first “Cloverfield”? Probably not, given that the movie, which was written by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, was begun as an unrelated low-budget horror movie called “The Cellar,” and was only linked to the “Cloverfield” universe by late-stage rewrites by “Whiplash’s” Damien Chazelle, who shares story credit. (ScreenCrush’s Erin Whitney explains the connection in a spoiler-filled breakdown, but the reviews are unanimous in their determination that you should go into “10 Cloverfield Lane” knowing as little as possible — which, spoiler alert, is the best way to see other movies as well.) But set that tenuous connection aside, and you’re left with a confident, creepy debut, a knowing “Cabin in the Woods”-type riff on horror movies, siege thrillers, and other genres to be named later. Those nauseated by “Cloverfield’s” handheld style will be relieved to know that director John Trachtenberg breaks out the tripod for its spiritual sequel, and the three core performances are far stronger than the first movie’s, although that’s admittedly not an especially robust compliment. But there’s really only one thing you need to know about “10 Cloverfield Lane”: You’re going to want to see it, preferably before someone tells you what it’s about.
Reviews of “10 Cloverfield Lane”
Justin Chang, Variety
Marking a rock-solid feature debut for director Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriters Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken (both credited for the story along with “Whiplash” writer-director Damien Chazelle), “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the rare follow-up that wasn’t even conceived with the first movie in mind. Developed for Paramount’s now-defunct Insurge Pictures genre label under the working titles “The Cellar” and “Valencia,” the film initially told a self-contained story before it was ingeniously reverse-engineered into an offshoot of the “Cloverfield” universe, all done under the sort of secrecy we’ve come to expect from the imprimatur of J.J. Abrams. The studio may court some blowback from die-hard fans of the original film (which grossed $170 million worldwide on a $25 million budget), who may well reject Trachtenberg’s movie as a cynical cash grab, or take issue with the fact that it was shot on a tripod. It’d be easy enough to concur, if not for the simple fact that “10 Cloverfield Lane” is vastly smarter and more satisfying than its predecessor; every cynical cash grab should turn out this good.
Matt Prigge, Metro
Winstead’s precisely contained performance isn’t the only deftly controlled part of “10 Cloverfield Lane.” It’s a finely calibrated shape-shifter that is, by turns, a kidnapping saga, a prison break picture, a post-apocalyptic grinder, a chamber dramedy and at least two other types of movies we won’t spoil — though, given the title and the presence of J.J. Abrams as a producer, one is an easy guess. There are twists galore, but this isn’t just about getting to the next hairpin turn. It’s about staying in the moment, which is usually thick with tension, even when things have momentarily chilled out into board game sessions and screenings of VHS horror junk.
Kate Erbland, Indiewire
“10 Cloverfield Lane” doesn’t dance around the truth for too long, but the film is built to force its audience to draw quick conclusions about Howard and his aims. Is he a doomsday loony who got lucky and helped out a woman in need at the most opportune of times? Or is he a lying psychopath who has cooked up one hell of a story to tell his latest captive? The film eventually explores other options, but keeps its central framework unchanged. It is, like most things sprung from Abrams’ so-called mystery box, hard to explain without spoiling, and so much of the joy of Trachtenberg’s film is its many surprises, twists and change-ups.
Robbie Collin, Telegraph
think of the title as an invitation from producer J.J. Abrams, Hollywood’s master of the tease, to chew over the new film in light of the old one. Both are darkly enthralling, fantastical thrillers that use allegory like an explosive harpoon. And both borrow astutely from video games: “Cloverfield” most obviously in its blood-pounding first-person perspective, and “10 Cloverfield Lane” in the way clue-gathering and lateral thinking click open the traps of its puzzle-box plot. All of “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a game about finding out what’s hidden behind the next door. It’s not until the final 15 minutes that we find out if we’ve been watching a science-fiction or horror movie.
Justin Lowe, Hollywood Reporter
Both narratively and stylistically, “Cloverfield” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” remain at a significant remove from one another. Making an impactful feature debut, Trachtenberg eschews the well-worn found-footage technique in favor of a suspenseful style that’s more consistent with the tense character dynamics of the first two-thirds of the movie, perceptibly heightened by the claustrophobic underground setting. The final third shifts into high-adrenaline action mode with some thrilling set pieces as Michelle faces unexpected new threats, making the paradoxical conclusion satisfying on multiple levels as it delivers on the thriller setup while introducing surprising new developments. A subplot involving the mysterious disappearance of Howard’s teen daughter adds a frisson of dread that’s strategically leveraged to catalyze the characters’ conclusive confrontation.
Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
As a gamelike, simulationist PG-13 horror chamber piece, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a success: well shot and -staged, arrestingly acted, edited with a crisp unpredictability. It’s less compelling in terms of character and meaning. There’s bite in Goodman’s portrayal of an American classic, the troubled dude so thoroughly prepped for doomsday that he’s clearly rooting for doomsday to come. But the character suffers from mystery-box plotting: To ensure we’re always guessing, he can’t just come out and tell Michelle, in the early scenes, what exactly is supposed to be going on. He’s so slow to spill the basics of the scenario that you might think the marketing team has them under embargo even inside the movie itself.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
“The Twilight Zone” meets “No Exit” in “10 Cloverfield Lane,” a film that spends much of its running time within the close confines of an underground survival shelter. Who’s in there, whether or not they should be, and what’s really happening outside are questions that make up almost all of the plot, and for most of the movie’s 105 minutes, those mysteries are enough to generate tension and suspense amidst the claustrophobia. If this were a play, it’s quite possible that the audience would be left guessing as to what really happened and why, but the movie provides answers, which wind up being less interesting than the mystery of it all. Viewers will remember the resolution, sure, but if they look back fondly on “10 Cloverfield Lane,” it will be for the joy of not knowing.
Bryan Bishop, The Verge
The film barrels through a variety of emotional colors: scares, laughs, moments of emotional vulnerability, and it’s a testament to director Dan Trachtenberg that the pieces fit so seamlessly together. Trachtenberg first got widespread attention online for a short film based on the Portal video games — which also happened to open with a woman waking up in a featureless concrete room under mysterious circumstances — and while he’s continued to work on short-form, web-based projects 10 Cloverfield Lane is remarkably deft work from a first-time feature director. His action sequences and pacing are tight, yet effortless, and he’s able to take a story that’s largely just three people hanging out in three small rooms, and make it feel surprisingly dynamic and alive.
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly
For a rookie director, Trachtenberg appears to be a real craftsman, even if what he’s crafting doesn’t add up to as much as you hope it will. Like Shyamalan’s Signs, it’s 90 minutes of anticipation – ominous trap-setting that leads to a big pay-off that is well staged but also a little anticlimactic and hokey. In the end, I wished there was a better payoff to warrant all the mystery.
Erin Whitney, ScreenCrush
The mere existence of something as wacky as “10 Cloverfield Lane” is an accomplishment in itself. The Beyoncé album drop of movies, it’s incredible a film could be unveiled to the public as suddenly and secretively as this when its first trailer dropped less than two months ago. Whether that proves detrimental to audience reception, or whether hardcore “Cloverfield” fans will feel misled by the title remains to be seen. But the more you sit back and enjoy the nutty ride that “10 Cloverfield Lane” is, the more fun you’ll have.