I always wondered how the great TV anthology series would have reacted if they didn’t need to squeeze all their ideas into rigid little 30 or 60 minute blocks. Just another twenty minutes to linger on the thought process of the characters held at bay by the forces of the fantastic. 10 Cloverfield Lane is very much in the tradition of Twilight Zone or Tales from the Darkside, but it has the unique advantage of time to flesh out its characters and its world.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up after an accident in a well apportioned, but still dungeon-like bomb shelter. Her benefactor is the lumbering, large, Howard (John Goodman). He keeps Michelle locked up for her “safety”, telling her tales of biological warfare ending all life.
Goodman slimmed up considerably in recent years after adopting sobriety, but his Howard is puffed out to full bear-size. He channels Kathy Bates from Misery with an aloof, even-keel temperament which effectively masks any psychosis.
In a film like this, the true tension is not so much a character will die, but instead that they may die or surrender before unwittingly uncovering the full mystery of their circumstance. We the audience want to know what the world looks like outside Howard’s bunker even more so than seeing Michelle survive the ordeal.
10 Cloverfield Lane tries to deliver the goods in every portion of the film. As much as the state of the outside world propels the film, Howard is a mystery unto himself. And in fleshing him out, the filmmakers find ample thriller setups, red herrings, and genuine scares. But in order to merit the title Cloverfield, there must at least be some vestige of horror/sci-fi thrown in. So there too, the outside world is indeed beset by the fantastic, though after spending a great deal of time in a lovingly rendered man vs man conflict, a big budget sci fi set piece serves as the film’s climax. The shift is not quite as jarring as a similar turn in Save the Green Planet, but it's not nearly as effective as the thriller portion that preceded it.