10 Cloverfield Lane is a “spiritual successor” to an okay 2008 New York monster/alien flick Cloverfield, according to producers JJ Abrams and Drew Goodard. The pair have some serious power behind them – previously collaborating on Lost and Alias, now in charge of Star Wars and Marvel/Netflix Daredevil respectively – so why turn their attention to a not-even sequel to something that underperformed.
Furthermore, after the film I learnt the pair don’t even share the name fictional universe. Originally titled The Cellar, the odd title is their only connective tissue. Okay then.
Housekeeping aside, it’s a brilliant thriller that plays the science fiction angle cynically and fantastically. It twists the abduction trope and lends some credibility, which is probably due to the title in all truth. The audience knows Cloverfield happens, so John Goodman’s apparently deranged rambling seem truth til the evidence becomes insurmountable.
Goodman has played psychos before to acclaim but it remains jarring to see the eighties funnyman menace at his captors. The script plays into this occasionally by framing him as a saviour teddybear and it sticks unlike any other film in the genre. It’s very possible that he did save a woman on the side of the road as the apocalypse occurred. The audience recognises that both individual events have occurred and its extremely likely the screenwriters framed them concurrently for added dramatic tension.
The other side of the coin is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s spotted along the last decade of movies in interesting and compelling ways, but most notably for the double act of Bruce Willis’ daughter in Die Hard 4.0 and Scott Pilgrim’s love interest Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim VS The World. Since then it’s been mostly indie stuff and 10 Cloverfield Lane fits that bill.
Since John Goodman’s character is so overwhelmingly physically powerful the movie becomes purely psychological. It begins with a rapid and desperate exploratory period that ends with Goodman absolved, allowing the film to weave layers of complexity/exposition into the script more naturally.
The final conflict is a multi-layered affair that goes for the throat and lasts a hefty amount of runtime. As such it risks double-bagging the ending with multiple out-of-the-blue conflicts but ultimately the realisation of all the hypotheticals keeps it intriguing.
It also faces little competition on the big screen and certainly none in its niche sub-genre. The real test is to get the audience away from House of Cards’ super-serious politics to 10 Cloverfield Lane’s different kind of mindgames. In saying that the marketing for the film has been almost non-existant outside of the ultra-publicised Superbowl television spot.
The project was produced on the down-low with only four cast members and constantly changed names. It flew under the radar nearly entirely until Superbowl, adding an unknown quantity to the flood of imagery secured for the event. It wasn’t as popular as Batman V Superman’s audacious tie-in or Captain America: Civil War’s epic chanting (obviously) but it did ignite something.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a fine film that showcases the immense talent of John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. If it were in the same continuity, it would serve as an upgrade to a gimmicky found footage original. In fact, retconning that misguided statement would make a Cloverfield 3 that dovetails these experiences all the more enticing.