10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
"Outside is dangerous... inside is terrifying"
Following a car accident, Michelle awakens to find herself in a bunker and the prisoner of Howard, a survivalist who claims that the outside world has been attacked by a mysterious airborne virus that has left the air too poisonous to breathe. Michelle believes him at first but, as Howard becomes more unsettled and aggressive, she grows sceptical that she is the victim of an elaborate plan to stop her from leaving.
2008’s Cloverfield was shrouded in a veil of secrecy upon its release, with subtle hints in the teaser trailers as to what the eventual type of film was going to be. The pre-release plot speculation generated a massive amount of buzz, a real masterstroke of marketing from J.J. Abrams, as cinema goers the world over tried to work out what the film was going to be about. Unique viral campaigns were launched featuring things like time-coded photos and puzzles to solve to drip-feed more information about the film. In the end, all these things did was just create more interest for the eventual film which, as it turned out, was a found footage monster romp which had its moments. It would be hard to replicate such a unique marketing campaign a second time around for any possible sequel. Eight years later and 10 Cloverfield Lane came totally out of the blue to surprise audiences – this wasn’t a sequel to Cloverfield was it?
Officially unveiled around two months before it was released, 10 Cloverfield Lane may not even have started life as a Cloverfield follow-up but during production, similarities between the films were identified and it was repackaged as a spiritual successor (Abrams has noted that there are clear reasons why it wasn’t just called Cloverfield 2) – even the main actors didn’t realise what they were filming until a few days before the final trailer was released. So go into 10 Cloverfield Lane expecting a bigger and better Cloverfield re-run and you’ll be sorely disappointed. But go into it with an open mind and knowledge that you’re not getting the same and you’ll be rewarded with a fine thriller which really hits above its weight. In my opinion, this is the better film.
The set-up to 10 Cloverfield Lane is so simple yet its execution is effective from the first moment right until the final third. The crux of the matter is whether you believe Howard’s story or not. The smart script deliberately drip-feeds new information and continually throws curve balls towards the audience with the actions and motives of Howard. Just which parts of his story are real and which aren’t? What exactly has happened outside? Does he really have ulterior motives or is everything he has said true? The bait-and-switch tactics of the script have you siding one way before throwing you in the opposite direction the next. As Michelle’s opinion of Howard fluctuates one way and another, so does that of the audience. For every step in one direction, something is revealed that takes you back towards the other side. Entire scenes which appear to add nothing become more sinister than you think. It’s almost Hitchcockian in its approach and first-time director Dan Trachtenberg really makes a good impression with the confident way he handles the material.
Given the film’s simple set-up, it was going to be down to the cast to make the script work and with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane has found some top talent. Winstead is great in the low-key leading role, a likeable actress who manages to really convey her paranoia and confusion amidst the puzzling scenario she finds herself in. She does have some great chemistry with co-star John Goodman, both in the friendlier moments between the two but also the more violent and explosive sequences. Goodman, who has always been massively underrated as an actor, really steals the show here. He commands the screen at almost every minute, effortlessly switching from the homely, paternalistic persona he made famous in Roseanne, to a completely unhinged lunatic. It’s totally against type and it works for the better for his character – audiences can’t help but be drawn to Goodman and relate to him, turning his character into someone they’d naturally gravitate towards.
If there is a problem with 10 Cloverfield Lane, it’s in the final act of the film which ties the psychological thriller first two acts into the original film’s alien invasion storyline. Here, the narrative abandons what made the rest of the film work so well and tacks on unnecessary action set pieces in an attempt to link in to (assumedly) a bigger story arc for a further sequel. These sequences are as generic as they are pointless but thankfully, they don’t detract too much from what had preceded it.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a cracking ninety minutes which works far better if you imagine it as a standalone apocalyptic claustrophobic thriller and ignore the rather tacked-on Cloverfield moniker. It’s got a really foreboding, uncomfortable atmosphere which grips you at the start – just go in as blind as you can to enjoy the experience to it’s fullest.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Director(s): Dan Trachtenberg
Writer(s): Josh Campbell (screenplay by), Matt Stuecken (screenplay by), Damien Chazelle (screenplay by)
Actor(s): John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Duration: 103 mins