10 Cloverfield Lane has been a giant mystery ever since its trailer appeared out of the blue. It was a project not even its actors knew was a relative of the 2008 found-footage-style monster film Cloverfield. In fact, the original working title of this film was The Cellar, and it was known as such all the way up until the trailer’s release. That’s how secretive this movie is. But what do you expect when it comes from J.J. Abrams, the master of secrety secrets?
Remember the “Benedict Cumberbatch is definitely not Khan, but okay he’s Khan” secret about Star Trek Into Darkness? Or all of the secrets that surrounded (and still surround) Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Abrams is known for holding his films tight to his chest, and it’s a testament to his marketing prowess. Other films blow their loads in the trailer and give away spoilers from day one, but Abrams gives us NOTHING. It creates intrigue (which helps sell the movie), but it also means the audience gets to fully experience the movie without knowing what happens before they get to the theater.
In the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the buzz is working, and it’s refreshing to see a movie for once and not have any idea what to expect (at least in my case). But I’m afraid fans of Cloverfield who were expecting to see a direct correlation between the two films will ultimately be disappointed. Because the only real thing 10 Cloverfield Lane has in common with the original film is its name.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a solid suspense/thriller wrapped in an unnecessary “Cloverfield” package. Had the film stuck to its working title and ditched the last 10-15 minutes of the movie (during which one of the characters manages to escape from the doomsday bunker and encounters the aforementioned monsters), it would’ve been a great film about three strangers locked together during an uncertain nuclear apocalypse. In fact, the majority of the film takes place in the bunker, which gives it so much more emotional weight (like Room‘s first half), so when we were finally shown what’s outside, it was a letdown.
The story is set in Louisiana (not New York, where Cloverfield took place) and follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who just left her boyfriend and gets in a car accident in the middle of nowhere. When she wakes up, she’s injured and trapped underground in a bunker with conspiracy theorist Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who helped Howard build the bunker. Both men give off a shifty vibe, so Michelle is obviously panicked, especially when Howard tells her that everyone outside is dead, and they’ll need to stay put for at least a year or two to wait it out.
But the panic isn’t just there for Michelle. The audience gets enveloped by it, too. Not only does the bunker’s tiny space add to claustrophobic terror of this movie, but there’s also the lingering question: Is Howard telling the truth about the world outside, or is he a psychopath who kidnapped Michelle and plans to do something bad to her? And like a good thriller, it’s a constant rollercoaster. Just when you start to feel relaxed or like you know what’s going to happen, the movie throws you a curveball. My heart was pounding the whole time.
Like I said, 10 Cloverfield Lane is NOT a direct link to Cloverfield, nor would I call it a sequel…at least not right now. I do think there’s a potential setup that could turn it into a Twilight Zone-esque franchise with different people experiencing different sci-fi/horror attacks. And from that viewpoint, it makes 10 Cloverfield Lane really interesting. It could also work as a massive alien invasion story (or kaiju or whatever these unidentifiable biological beings turn out to be), where stories from all over the world are told at different points in the invasion.
If Abrams is truly setting up a cinematic universe with this story, it would definitely be a new angle for the franchise machine—one that would prove it’s possible to create original scripts that can function as a larger narrative. But until Abrams gives us a third installment (which some already speculate could be a film he’s working on called God Particle), it’ll be hard to tell. For now, just don’t go in for the monster from Cloverfield or handheld camera POVs. Because you won’t get either.
10 Cloverfield Lane: B-
You can listen to my review of 10 Cloverfield Lane on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 29:02).