Some monsters come in the forms of obtuse marketing campaigns.
A little housekeeping before we get into this review, 10 Cloverfield Lane has between Fuck and All to do with 2008’s Cloverfield. I’ve seen some people draw connections between the two films, but these two movies are distinct in terms of character, story, and even genre. Can you argue they both take place within the same world? Sure, but I’d argue that the ending drives the two movies further apart. Nonetheless, as a movie by itself, did I like 10 Cloverfield Lane? Read on…
We have Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle who gets into a violent car crash and wakes up in a bomb shelter run by a guy named Howard (John Goodman). Howard explains that the outside world is completely destroyed and there is likely poisoned air from fallout from the Russians…or the Martians…or some other conspiracy theory wandering in the confines of his paranoid brain. Nonetheless, Michelle finds herself in the confines of this shelter with this survivalist and a yokel who helped him build the shelter while wondering if she should believe the “end of society” talk in the first place.
This is honestly nerve wrecking filmmaking at its finest. Everything from the structure, characters, writing, actors, and camera angle are accomplished perfectly to give you an ideal “bottle film.” That is, a movie entirely or almost entirely taking place within a confined space. Plenty of movies utilize the structure to save costs but most fail miserably to engage because they’re so poorly thought out or badly written. But 10 Cloverfield Lane solves that problem by giving you a suspenseful situation and never letting you unwind the tension.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead once again proves why she is among the best young actresses in Hollywood despite never starring in Oscar-nominated pictures. There’s a lot to her character besides the immediate predicament she finds herself in, and that emotional baggage affects her decisions and choices in a sensible way that is no less interesting because she feels like a fully fleshed out person. Her interaction with Goodman’s character and the yokel further demonstrates how well she can play off of other high quality actors.
Speaking of which, Goodman is practically magnetic in this. The best part about him is that you’re constantly second guessing yourself on his intentions. Upon being introduced to him, you can’t help but feel cautious towards him but plot developments later on make you consider he may have a point about the whole “end of the world.” Leaving you to wonder if he’s just got a screw loose or if he’s truly menacing.
The yokel, played by John Gallagher, is a charming fellow that you and Michelle can’t help but cling on as the only other sane person in this bunker. He’s far more trusting of Howard if only because he’s seen some things that indicate Howard isn’t entirely full of shit. But he’s no dummy either, leading to a great conclusion for him by film’s end.
All of these fine actors are assisted by Dan Trachtenberg, the director and real MVP of this production. Don’t be fooled that JJ Abrams had a heavy hand in the movie, because his contribution is the name and enigmatic marketing campaign that defined the original Cloverfield. The funny thing is, Trachtenberg is the director Abrams aspires to be despite this movie being the former’s feature film debut. Trachtenberg crafted a Hitchcock-esqe thriller combining the feel of Rope, Strangers on a Train, and North by Northwest without needing to copy the legendary director’s filming ticks or tricks. Unlike a certain someone I know involved with this production.
I didn’t want to go into too much spoilers for this review, because I think the trailer did an excellent job in giving you an idea of what the movie is all about without revealing the big bombs dropped throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane. This is a movie that’s even better without knowing what’s going on as you watch it, because the fun is peeling back the layers of secrets hidden within this bomb shelter as you and Michelle realize what sort of danger she’s in: is she trying to keep monsters from coming in or is she stuck in a prison with a monster?
Now then, why the hell is this even called 10 Cloverfield Lane in the first place? Fans of the two movies have found that one of the characters in this movie works for the same company the protagonist in Cloverfield was going to work for…that’s it. The monster from the first movie does not make an appearance in this movie, nor are there any references to what occurred in New York City back in 2008. Hell, a character’s phone in 10 Cloverfield Lane clearly indicates a lapse in time has occurred between these two movies, so you can’t say the events of both films are occurring at the same time. So what the hell is the connection?
Marketing. That’s it. You can try to rationalize the websites discussing the films are pointing out the connections of this world, but all of these sites were engineered to do one thing: sell you a movie. There’s no book series to dive into, no grand website for you to check other monster-related stories, nothing. The name “Cloverfield” is just the J.J. Abrams “Mystery Box” in action. If you’re unfamiliar with the “Mystery Box,” you can check out Abrams’ TED talk on the subject here. Basically what he’s getting it is that audiences are drawn to movies where they’re given just enough information that makes them curious without grandly revealing what the hell is going on. You’re purposely being manipulated by your brain’s desire to know by checking out his movies when he keeps all the cards close to his chest.
Honestly, this sort of marketing for filmmaking has backfired horribly on Abrams in the past. In the lead up to Super 8, people swore up and down the movie was some of kind of prequel to Cloverfield when the films have zero to do with each other. Then there was the infamous Star Trek Into Darkness fiasco when Abrams tried like hell to convince people Benedict Cumberbatch was not Khan from The Wrath of Khan, and well…he was fucking Khan the whole time.
Do not buy into this whole “spiritual successor” or “DNA” crap Abrams has been spewing about 10 Cloverfield Lane. All you need to know is this: it’s a damn good suspense film. Honestly, it’s one of the best thrillers we have had in years. You do not need to see Cloverfield to understand what is going on, and you don’t need to draw connections between the two to enjoy it. Go and check this movie out because this is getting a high…