Sometimes it isn’t the story you tell, but how you tell it. This is why the oldest jokes still work and why tales around the campfire (not to mention in books) can still enlighten, terrify, and entertain. This is different from cliche… it more about the familiar done at its best. While 10 Cloverfield is not exactly new ground, the way the story is told will keep you interested and, yes, occasionally jumping. The editing is tight and targeted and the story offers enough doubt to make you want to see what happens at each turn.
The small cast is led by three actors. John Goodman (Trumbo) dominates by size and presence, but it is Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) that is the center of the story from beginning to end. John Gallagher Jr. (The Newsroom) adds a slightly less credible, but necessary, character to the situation. While the performances are all relatively solid, particularly Goodman and Winstead’s subtle shifts, it really is the editing and directing that made it work.
As director Dan Tranchtenberg’s first full-length major, the result is a heck of an achievement. After the promise and splash of his Portal: No Escape, it was good to see him able to succeed in long form. He had an interesting take on the script from newish writers Campbell and Stuecken, helped out by the more minted Chazelle (Whiplash). It has been a while since we’ve seen a solid, major movie with a take on the apocalypse with less of Mad Max feel and more something like On the Beach. In fact, only smaller distribution flicks have gotten to take that route recently: These Final Hours, 4:44: Last Day on Earth, and Melancholia come to mind (but my memory may be failing on that point).
If you’re looking for something entirely new, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a solid story told well that you’ll recognize, but still find surprises within, this may fit the bill. It is a bit violent at times, but not overly gooey. And Winstead’s story adds to a growing list of strong female characters in horror/suspense that are finally becoming more common than rare, which is a welcome change.