10 Cloverfield Lane is an Altogether Different Animal – and Lays Down a Marker in How to Build a Universe

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr.

Rescued from a car wreck, Michelle wakes to find herself hooked up to a drip and chained to the pipping in a basement cell. Her saviour/captor, Howard, informs her that there has been some sort of an attack, nuclear, chemical, alien – he doesn’t know; one thing is certain though, the world they once knew is gone but they are safe in his underground doomsday bunker, stacked with enough provisions to last them three years. Along with Emmett, another survivor, Michelle must adjust to life underground all the while finding herself questioning Howard’s story. Are they really the only survivors of some sort of global terror event?

It’s safe to say that no-one saw 10 Cloverfield Lane coming. In an age where films are heralded and marketed heavily for months, it is genuinely surprising and amusing in many ways for a film to announce itself to the world through its debut trailer and for the film itself to hit cinema screens less than 8 weeks later. I mean, we know when the next 3 Star Wars films are going to land and over a dozen Marvel films also. 10 Cloverfield Lane has generated headlines by, paradoxically, not announcing itself. While the word ‘genius’ is bandied about a little too often, JJ Abrams needs to take some serious kudos for the manner in which this film was released. He may actually have taken the template for how to market a film and torn it up. Thank God someone did. 10 Cloverfield Lane certainly benefits from this as it is a sequel (of sorts) to another game changing but also divisive film, 2008’s Cloverfield. Not the first, but possibly the best, found footage film, Cloverfield was famous as much for its interesting take on the monster movie formula as it was for making its viewers sick to their stomach due to the relentless handheld camera work. As many people hated Cloverfield because of this as loved it. It was a genuine risk to even include the name Cloverfield in the title of this blood relative as it could easily have put potential audience members off based on the dry land seasickness that the first film induced. But both films are poles apart in terms of structure and storytelling, 10 Cloverfield Lane is by far the superior film.

10 Cloverfield Lane is in Cinemas Now. - HeadStuff.org
10 Cloverfield Lane is in Cinemas Now. Source

I loved the original because it was so different but 10 Cloverfield Lane virtually ignores the first film and that is why this sequel is such a good film. Unlike the glut of superhero sequels, which are virtually remakes of each other (yes The Avengers, I’m talking about you), 10 Cloverfield Lane seems to have made a conscious decision to step away from the tropes and ideas that made the original so memorable. Where Cloverfield was a disaster film detailing a bunch of party goers caught up in some sort of alien invasion of New York, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a psychological drama concerned with three individuals stuck underground in a tiny space and how they cope in the cramped conditions; both films live in the same universe but are vastly different animals.

There is a certain element of The Thing or 12 Angry Men about this film and more than a strong whiff of Hitchcock too, from the central premise itself to the Bernard Hermann-esque score and the Saul Bass influenced title sequence. In the original, ‘panic’ was the central character, 10 Cloverfield Lane is instead blessed with two actors  (John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who give really strong, measured performances. Winstead has played this type of character before, most notably in the recent remake/reboot/prequel to The Thing and Die Hard 4.0. Like Tom Hanks and the everyman character he has perfected, Winstead really excels as the resourceful young woman who is eventually equal to anything the situation can throw at her. But Goodman is the revelation here. You will never look at John Goodman the same way again, his take on the sinister saviour Howard is akin to Henry Fonda’s villainous turn in Once Upon a Time in the West or Charlize Theron in Monster – a master stroke in casting. Always watchable, you cannot take your eyes off him when he is on screen, so potent is the mix of menace and concern he exudes.
Winstead and Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane - HeadStuff.org
Winstead and Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Source

While praising both lead actors, 10 Cloverfield Lane is also an accomplished piece of film making in itself. Perfectly paced, it doesn’t lag at all, moving neatly from one plot point to the next and tantalisingly posing as many questions as it answers – how did Michelle end up in a car crash? How did Howard find her? Why does Emmett not question the necessity of the bunker? Debut helmer Dan Trachtenberg, like Lenny Abrahamson with Room, embraced the limitations of the confined space and made a film that is both visually interesting and emotionally engaging. The score and sound-scape, especially during the opening sequence, are genuinely arresting, grabbing the viewer and throwing them headlong into the story. And also, in an era of multiple trailers aimed entirely, it would seem, at set-piece and plot give-aways, it is really refreshing to see a film where the footage in the trailer is taken almost 100% from the opening 45 minutes of the film; you can watch this movie and be completely surprised by the final act. It is a stroke of genius so simple you’d wonder why other film-makers don’t buy into the concept of “surprise your audience.”

While 10 Cloverfield Lane may not top a film of the year poll, it certainly is a far more clever film than the bulk of blockbusters we are going to be subjected to in the next few months. For the last number of years we have heard Marvel bang on about creating a cinematic universe for their characters, a universe where, to quote the unluckiest cop in the world, John McClane, “the same shit happens to the same guy twice.” Marvel’s cinematic universe constitutes the same story happening over and over just with different characters and it’s getting boring at this stage. Abrams, Trachtenberg and writer Drew Goddard have created a universe, with the promise of more Cloverfield’s to come, where different things are happening to different characters and the film-makers are employing different styles. Cloverfield was a disaster film, heavily influenced by the likes of The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. As mentioned earlier, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a Hitchcockian suspense thriller. The MCU is just one homogeneous mess at this stage, everything from Iron Man to Ant Man looking, feeling and sounding the same. But that is not the case with Cloverfield. Marvel take note, this is how you do it.

In short, would I recommend 10 Cloverfield Lane? Absolutely.

10 Cloverfield Lane is in cinemas now. Check out the trailer below.

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