Arriving fully formed out of the mystery box, to the surprise and (mostly) delight of people everywhere, comes 10 Cloverfield Lane, a title which can’t help but give you certain expectations about a movie.
So, first things first. Is it a sequel to giant monster film Cloverfield? Yes and no. It definitely fits into that universe, but we’re not seeing monster attack part two. There’s a couple of easter eggs dropped for those paying attention. I think JJ Abrams’ description of it as a ‘spiritual sequel’ is pretty much on the money here. Imagine it being the two films being the perfect double bill. Originally entitled The Cellar, this one does feel like a separately conceived film that is now a franchise picture, in what may a glimpse into the future of move marketing. This might antagonise those of you who were expecting a more direct link to the first film, but it’s worth checking your expectations on that front.
More importantly that that though, is it any good? An emphatic yes to this one. 10 Cloverfield Lane is easily one of the most intense, heart-pounding and thrilling times you can have watching a modern film. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you know the basic set-up. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is trapped in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr). I can’t say how she gets there, as it’ll spoil a brilliant opening credits sequence. But rest assured all is not well in the bunker. But all might be a lot worse above ground.
This is a film that plays on your expectations, then doubles back round and surprises you. It ramps up the tension constantly, with just enough pauses to let you breathe, think everything will be okay, before plunging back into it all again.
The three leads are all excellent, and while the obvious stand-out will be John Goodman, who is equally loveable and terrifying, both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr do great, humanising work to make you really care about the dynamics of the bunker. It’s a self-contained chamber piece but never feels small. The cat and mouse nature of the conflict in the bunker feels Hitchcockian in its execution, with several set-pieces of planning, acting, reacting, countering. All with have you biting your nails.
Then comes the ending. You’ll be back to discuss that. The final act of the film feels like the filmmakers letting loose, and throwing almost every trick they can think of on-screen to make the audience go ‘woaahh, noooooo!’. It climaxes with a superbly mad finale, with a character essentially winking at you that, yes they know just how this looks.
Debut director Dan Trachtenberg, previously known for his Portal short-film, does an admirable job at making sure the film is tightly focused at all times. There’s a few filmmaking 101 moments in there, particularly when it comes to foreshadowing, but ultimately they’re minor when compared to the whole. Bear McCreary’s score is also a lush string-soaked tension magnifier, almost acting as an extra character.
This is a film it’s best to go into knowing as little as possible about. There’s a strong chance you’ll be discussing it at length afterwards. You’ll be researching all the augmented reality game (ARG) easter eggs Bad Robot have put out online in a similar fashion to the original Cloverfield. You’ll be tempted to go and re-watch it again to parse for more clues. But most of all, you’ll be discussing the genuinely bonkers ending to a thrill-ride of a film…