This film seems to have surprised a number of people. Few knew a ‘spiritual sequel’ to the 2008 sci-fi monster movie Cloverfield was even in development, so when the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane first appeared a couple of months ago the internet seemed to sit up straight and collectively say ‘huh?’. Judging by the trailer 10 Cloverfield Lane certainly didn’t look like the kind of sequel one might have expected, with its small cast and apparent bunker setting: we saw Mary Elizabeth Winstead, we saw John Goodman, and we saw a guy with a beard, but there was no sign of a giant alien smashing Manhattan to smithereens, as per the first movie; no sign of a monster at all, in fact. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character looked as if she was trapped and trying to get out of the bunker. John Goodman’s character looked like he was trying to keep her inside. Was it safe out there or would she be better off staying put with old Dan from Roseanne and the guy with the beard? When is the action supposed to be taking place? Before events in New York, or after? And then, without giving much away at all, the trailer ends. Just like in ye olde days. Were Paramount really offering up a three-hander chamber piece to kick some life into a potential sci-fi/disaster franchise? The answer, of course, is ‘yes they were’, and so with piqued interest the internet went to work, looking for information. The screenplay – originally titled The Cellar – had been hoovered up by JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot production company a couple of years ago and sent off to Whiplash‘s Damien Chazelle for polishing. It seems this is the point that co-producer Abrams felt the story should be tied-in to the Cloverfield ‘universe’, but that the tie-in should be loose, at best. There has been a second collective wave of surprise, post-trailer, and that has come about because 10 Cloverfield Lane is actually quite good; we’re so used to sequels and reboots sucking that the reaction to this film and Creed, both of which seem to have struck a chord with audiences, has been telling.
I won’t go into too much detail about the plot, but the story does revolve around a Room-style abduction, though there is more mystery here than in Lenny Abrahamson’s film. There are three people locked in a bunker for most of this movie, and John Goodman’s character Howard is the potential psychopath and survivalist with the keys. Winstead shines as the resourceful Michelle, who Howard picks up from the side of the road in the wake of a car accident. Was that an act of kindness, as he suggests, or an opportunistic kidnapping, as she begins to fear? The guy with the beard is actually John Gallagher, Jr, who impressed in Short Term 12, and here he plays a man named Emmett, who has either luckily or unluckily also been allowed into the bunker, depending on your point of view. Outside the air is apparently contaminated. Is it a nuclear attack? A mass-scale chemical attack? Aliens? Or even those pesky Russians, as Howard fears? Or is Howard simply telling lies? Michelle is rightly skeptical, given that she wakes from her car crash chained to a pipe, but Emmett seems to corroborate Howard’s story, talking of the ‘Biblical’ explosions he witnessed before forcing his way indoors.
Lenny Abrahamson’s Room was critically-lauded and won awards, and it has made $31 million to date, so obviously without the Cloverfield name or Abrams’ involvement it’s possible that this film – landing in the traditional March wasteland – would have struggled to get bums on seats. So first and foremost the tie-in is a smart business move. Personally I’d have preferred not to have had the ‘C’ word sitting right there in the middle of the title, although I have to ask ‘would I have been as interested in going to see a film called The Cellar?’, and the answer is ‘probably not’. And yet despite the name you walk away from 10 Cloverfield Lane with the feeling that its success – $68m and counting – is largely due to good old-fashioned word-of-mouth as much as the glowing reviews or the branding. My review is full of questions, and that’s because the film keeps you guessing for long periods, which is entertaining enough in itself. This is an enjoyable and tense crowd-pleasing thriller, capably directed by first-timer Dan Trachtenberg, and the acting by both Winstead and Goodman is pretty good; the former has the age-old young woman in peril act down pat, while few people can do sudden explosions of aggression quite like the latter. It’s well-paced, with clues and twists and mis-directions arriving steadily from the moment we’re locked down underground with all three characters, while it has its share of chills and scares, most of which are tried-and-tested but effective nonetheless: drastic scrambles to hide things away when someone is coming, faces suddenly appearing at windows with no warning, and so on. I guess if anything the final act may be a stretch for some viewers, but I enjoyed it, and am happy to add my voice to the many recommendations it has received.
Directed by: Dan Trachtenburg.
Written by: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.
Cinematography: Jeff Cutter.
Editing: Stefan Grube.
Music: Bear McCreary.
Running Time: 103 minutes.