According to producer JJ Abrams, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is not a direct sequel to the 2008 found footage monster movie called “Cloverfield,” but instead is hopefully the beginning of a series of movies that will fall under a Cloverfield-themed banner, essentially an anthology of genre movies that will be similar in spirit and tone to each other but will be different stories going in different directions. Like “The Twilight Zone” or “Tales From The Crypt,” the word Cloverfield will theoretically start to mean something more to people than just “giant monster.” And with “10 Cloverfield Lane,” it appears that they have started this journey of a thousand miles with the proper first steps.
The cool thing about “10 Cloverfield Lane” is how the story and plot are both quite small and contained to a single set and only a few characters, but the scope of the movie ends up being pretty epic. It’s actually a great example of how a movie can give an audience just enough so that they can make bigger leaps with their imaginations, wondering how the details provided actually continue to extend throughout this world logically. We don’t need to actually see the full picture, just give a few smartly chosen details and let the audience do the rest.
The story is centered on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who gets in a car accident in the beginning of the movie and wakes up in a creepy room, chained to a pipe. This room is in an underground bunker built by Howard (John Goodman), and while he seems intimidating and a little creepy, he insists to Michelle that he saved her life and that the outside world has gone to shit, having been attacked in some way, maybe chemical, maybe nuclear, he’s not sure. He just knows everyone above ground is dead or dying and they would only be safe in the bunker. Naturally this is kind of hard for Michelle to believe. But then she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who claims to have fought his way in to the bunker to escape the attack himself, which helps her believe Howard. But then of course things start to happen and Michelle ends up constantly questioning the truth of the situation and who Howard is, and the whole movie is just building up the tension to an almost unbearable level until the other shoe drops.
And then things get really crazy.
The fear with a movie like this, which takes place in one location and with so few people, is that there won’t be any real payoff, that a bigger story is simply alluded to but the audience never gets to see or witness any of it, it just all exists as exposition. Fortunately in “10 Cloverfield Lane” there is definitely a payoff, there are answers and we see what’s happening and really the last fifteen minutes or so of the movie just brings it all home in a satisfying way. But of course this ending wouldn’t matter if we didn’t care about the people inside the bunker, and this story gives us just enough detail about these characters to actually make us care about what will happen to them. Howard seems like he wants to be a nice guy but he can’t help being a bit controlling and intimidating sometimes, which then ties into other aspects of his backstory which just resonate together in a smart way, especially when the much younger Michelle comes in to his life and seems to become a surrogate for Howard to put certain emotions into, which of course does not end well. Even Emmett gets a few scenes where he gets to talk about having regrets in his life and his character gets to be more than just some dumb dude whom Howard barely tolerates and actually becomes someone that can be easily relatable.
A cool thing about “10 Cloverfield Lane” is how this is a director’s first feature-length film, and this Dan Trachtenberg fella really nails it. The whole thing is very smartly shot and put together, and the tension ebbs and flows very nicely throughout the story, constantly bringing the audience up and down, making things tense and then hitting the pressure release valve for a few minutes before something else comes up and things get tense again and so on and it shows a real confidence in vision and tone, which is not something that should be taken for granted when making something like that depends so much on getting drama and suspense out of such a limited set up.
An expertly made genre movie from a first-time director, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is most excellent, as it is fun and exciting and both believable and fantastical at the same time, and if this is a sign for what’s to come from this Cloverfield-themes series of movies, then you can count me in on more of these things.