Traversing the streets of New York, a troupe of friends hoped to make it out alive as nightmarish creatures descended on the night. Fear and terror spread infectiously throughout the city as the alien monsters made their way into every tunnel, across every bridge, and into every room. The thrashing camera, frantic screams, and solid cast amplified this new kind of monster tale and made Cloverfield a memorable found-footage epic. Following in its footsteps, 10 Cloverfield Lane brings a new take on monsters and where they dwell, as the city is traded for a bomb shelter, and our troupe of friends reduced to three strangers.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakes injured inside a bunker after a car crash, unaware of her surroundings. The owner of the bunker, Howard Stambler (John Goodman), tells Michelle that the world outside has suffered an attack, rendering the air too toxic and preventing her from leaving. He saved her and Emmett DeWitt (John Gallagher, Jr.), by allowing them to stay in the bunker until the outside world becomes safe. After questioning Howard’s intentions and planning with Emmett, she decides she must take action to ensure her survival.
10 Cloverfield Lane is truly, as Abrams describes it, “a spiritual successor,” rather than a true sequel to the 2008 monster romp. The claustrophobia and the subtle sense of tension is in direct contrast to the open air and cataclysmic feelings brought about throughout Cloverfield. Though it shares the Cloverfield name, it does not share the filming style, characters, or the feel of the world. Sharing relatively little with the original film, one may wonder whether the attachment of the Cloverfield name was a cheap attempt at drawing in audiences lusting for a sequel. Though this may be true, the film stands very well on its own. Only time will tell if its position within the rest of its purported universe remains as strong.
When looked at as a standalone, the film is masterfully executed for a majority of the run time. Those feelings of unease and tension seen resting on the shoulders of the characters can be felt pressing the audience to the edge of their seats. It is a very bottled film, ready to burst because of the arduous events within the story and because of the expectations placed on it as a Cloverfield film.
The characters are extremely fleshed out. Each facet of their characters is explored deftly and tactfully. There are a lot of payoffs in the film, in which certain characteristics or skills make function integrally believable within the narrative. Though this should be expected when there are only three characters, it was refreshing to see characters’ motivations and skills working in a fluid and honest way. There are real character arcs within the film, leading to satisfying conclusions in a short 1 hour 43 minute run time.
When the film finally reaches resolution and the pressure is released, some viewers may find its finale rather out of place for a movie that places much of its time developing characters in smart and clever ways. That being said, the conclusions are sufficient and well-deserved for the characters involved.
On the acting side, Goodman plays marvelously into the doubts of characters and audiences, while insidiously pulling them to his way of thinking. Throughout the film, despite being given numerous clues or suggestions, one may never truly be sure of his intentions or aims. His moral ambiguity, coupled with fleeting glimpses of his humanity, makes for a character with whom we may sympathize and despise. Winstead’s expressivity adds much to the sense of tension and unease laden throughout the film. Her face is often front-and-center frame, cuing the audience into her next move, her feelings, or her fears. She makes all viewers fear of what is inside the bunker, as much as what lurks outside of it.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a worthy entry into what may become an anthology series. As it stands, it is a great psychological thriller in more ways than one. J.J. Abrams and the creative minds at Bad Robot Productions are pushing the boundaries on what a sequel means. It may not fit the conventional sense of the word, but it no doubt adds much needed variety to the oversaturated sequel market. 10 Cloverfield Lane is good in ways that are different from the monster movie that came before it, but as its marketing campaign says, “Monsters come in many forms.” Sequels do too.
Featured Image By Paramount Pictures