Published on March 15th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant0
10 Cloverfield Lane
It probably didn’t need to have Cloverfield in the name, but 10 Cloverfield Lane is a brilliant thriller with a spellbinding performance at its centre.
The use of the word ‘Cloverfield’ in the title of 10 Cloverfield Lane is probably more of a marketing decision than a logical choice. In fact, the script was written as a non-sci-fi thriller called The Cellar. When they tacked the Cloverfield moniker on it, Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) was brought in to rewrite (and direct, but he dropped out when Whiplash was funded). Now, I’m not one of the angry internet fools comparing the two films with a microscope and saying that they don’t reconcile. That’s dumb; we just don’t have enough story information either way to make or reject connections. I like the idea that each Cloverfield movie is a small piece of something huge, the tip of an iceberg with an unknown mass underneath the water. As an audience we just haven’t seen enough to understand that universe and whether we’re dealing aliens, sea monsters, government experiments gone wrong, or some combination of those things.
However, my notion can indeed be dismissed, if not from textual source, then because of the real world. The biggest statement on how these movies fit together comes from director Dan Trachtenberg, who has stated that the two movies “are not in the same timeline.” Like I said, I don’t like that explanation. I like the idea that they’re two vastly different slices of the same pie.
However, if 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t take place in the original Cloverfield universe, and it’s less a sequel to the original movie and more of what has been called an ‘anti-sequel,’ I’m not sure why it needed to bear the Cloverfield name, other than to put butts in seats. So it’s not the movie, but the director’s statement that wrecks the Cloverfield connection.
I don’t want to spoil too much, because there’s a lot to discover and be surprised and thrilled by in this film, but I’ll just say that if you’re a Cloverfield fan boy looking for fan service, you’re probably out of luck. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent movie, a Twilight Zone-style potboiler, but it’s a very different animal than Cloverfield. As a side note, while some were put off by the found footage shaky cam aspects of the original film, I actually enjoyed the hell out of it. It was the best Godzilla movie in recent years.
In 10 Cloverfield Lane, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a woman who is running from her fiancé and suffers a car accident. She wakes up in an underground bunker with John Goodman and John Gallagher, Jr (Jim from The Newsroom), who tell her that a major attack has happened and that the air outside will kill anyone who breathes it. It could be the Ruskies, it could be aliens, they aren’t sure, though Goodman’s character doomsday prepper could easily be wearing a tin foil hat.
First things first — Winstead and Gallagher are great, but Goodman is a revelation. Much of the Hitchcockian drama and suspense are achieved through guessing about his character, Howard. The script is very well written, but the acting elevates the story to another level. We don’t learn much about Howard, and what we do learn is sometimes unreliable. He might be a really nice guy. He might be a dangerous guy. These things might not be mutually exclusive. Goodman maintains a psychotic edge, while also garnering empathy, things that aren’t always written into the script, but they’re written all over his face. I’ve always thought he was a good actor, but this is Goodman’s tour de force.
The movie mostly plays like a television bottle episode, which is to say that it does a lot with a little. There’s definitely something going on outside that you want to know about, and don’t worry, it’ll get there, but the movie makes the most of its time underground, milking each moment for pure tension. While there are some good jump scares, there is also an atmosphere of tension and claustrophobia. It keeps you guessing, not only about what lurks outside, but about what will happen inside the bunker.
10 Cloverfield Lane is sort of two movies in one — the bunker situation and the sci-fi stuff that does address some sort of Cloverfield universe. I could see some people thinking those things don’t belong together, but I loved it. The best advice I can give you is to just let go of your expectations and enjoy the ride. It opens up the doors of what a sequel can be, where they can go, and how much fan service they have to pay.
And I might just plug my ears and pretend I never heard Trachtenberg’s comment. La-la-la, I can’t hear you. I’m creating my own reality where the two movies are indeed two incidents unfolding in the same universe. No one said I had to act maturely about this.