For a large blockbuster film produced by the man behind “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” has had a relatively short road to the screen, going under the working title “Valencia” at Paramount’s low-budget brand Insurge Pictures. Up until January 12th, 2016, “Valencia” was a yet to be discussed film right up until the release of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers,” when Paramount dropped a trailer out of nowhere under the title “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Many other fans of “Cloverfield,” like myself, rejoiced in the fact that we FINALLY were getting a sequel to the 2008 found-footage monster movie that gained a cult following (unpopular opinion: it’s one of the scariest films I’ve seen, in my opinion). But turns out, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is not a sequel to “Cloverfield” at all, but a subtle spin-off, turning the Cloverfield series into a J.J. Abrams brand of low-budget sci-fi horror pieces.
The beauty of the Cloverfield series is its secrecy, even with the original film not having a title up until right before release, with trailers up to that point going under “1-18-08,” the release date of the film. So in reference to “10 Cloverfield Lane,” I will do my best to keep the plot a secret.
How can you tell that “10 Cloverfield Lane” isn’t a direct sequel? The plot itself. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a woman avoiding her boyfriend, while driving away from her issue, she suffers a terrible car crash and wakes up in a bunker owned by Howard (John Goodman), a large, intimidating man saying that there was an attack and that everyone outside the bunker is dead. Inside the bunker also is Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a small-town boy who worked his way into the bunker after the supposed “attack.” Michelle must find out whether she was kidnapped, or whether the claims of the apocalypse hold any weight.
From here, I will not disclose anything else about “10 Cloverfield Lane,” as that’s where not only the fun of the project come into play, but the genius as well. “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a master-class in suspense, even for someone as seasoned to this genre like myself. First-time director Dan Trachtenberg does a bang up job building an incredibly atmospheric piece, one that finds just as much of a character in the bunker just as much as the incredibly elusive Howard.
While John Gallagher, Jr. and especially Mary Elizabeth Winstead (whom I have been championing since 2006 with “Final Destination 3”) are incredibly strong, it’s John Goodman who completely takes “10 Cloverfield Lane” into his large fists. From the start, everything about Howard seems off, to which the typically feel-good actor surprisingly does perfectly. Goodman’s presence, not only in his large physical build, but in his terrifying, doomsday conspiracist character is frighteningly intimidating to say the least. The question soon becomes that when the time comes for the apocalypse, do we even want to share bunkers with the type of people who have “prepared” for something like this?
The writing in the film, especially in that of the dialogue, is an incredibly taut work in how to properly make a suspense film. An early scene at the dinner table between the three characters is one of the more tense scenes in the entire film…until its final act. During the final act of the film, not a single person in the theater was breathing after its “reveal.” The film took a very original approach to an often tired trope in sci-fi films and turns it into something original and heart-pounding. It makes perfect sense that Damien Chazelle, the writer of “Whiplash,” easily one of the most tense films I have ever seen, was behind some of the screenplay, because it shows.
The touch of J.J. Abrams is all over this piece, as it has many different touches of his past work, from “Lost,” to “Super 8,” to of course, the previous “Cloverfield.” Hardcore “Cloverfield” fans might be a bit disappointed in the fact that “10 Cloverfield Lane” is not a direct sequel to the 2008 film, but I personally found the film to be even more thrilling in the fact that this film found something similar to do in the same vein, making the possibilities of a series of this with Abrams as producer even more thrilling than this film is in itself.
Case in point, “10 Cloverfield Lane” ripped every expectation I had from the film out of my hands and morphed it into something even more thrilling and beautiful than I could’ve imagined, in a much different way. It’s not that “10 Cloverfield Lane” surpassed my expectations, it completely became something else entirely. Do NOT expect anything resembling a sequel to “Cloverfield,” because you will be sorely disappointed, but as a small scale, tight, astute thriller, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is one of the best of the year in itself and Abrams has crafted a completely fascinating world of Cloverfield that I’m absolutely fascinated to see expanded. Bring it on Cloverfield, bring it on.
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher, Jr.
Runtime: 105 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language.
Also available in IMAX
Paramount Pictures presents, a Bad Robot production, “10 Cloverfield Lane”