Wednesday, 23 March 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

Under The Hood

10 Cloverfield Lane
2016 USA
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Mild spoilers plus some clearly marked large spoilers towards the end of the review.

You know, contrary to a lot of people I know, I really enjoyed the original Cloverfield when it was released back in 2008. I know some of my friends were put off by the found footage format (one of my friends, to this day, still refuses to watch it in case it gives her motion sickness) but I thought it was a truly excellent use of the shooting style in the choice to make an American kaiju eiga. In fact, I still feel it out-Gojiras the US Godzilla movie made just two years ago in being a much more fun and terrifying movie.

You could be forgiven, though, for not even realising that the new movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, was  upon us since it was put together under such a veil of secrecy that it wasn’t until the trailer appeared less than two months ago that people outside of the studio and crew officially knew it existed at all. That producer J. J. Abrams was able to get this made in secret in this day and age of intrusive media saturation, perpetually fuelled by the studios themselves (more often than not, I suspect), is pretty unbelievable.

Okay, now first let me address issues about whether this is an actual sequel or not to the original Cloverfield because, I had a much better ending for this movie in my head after seeing the trailers and, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Yes, we know the film is a self contained thriller (not a horror movie until the last 20 minutes or so) that started life as something slightly different and had some new ‘Cloverfield’ scenes tacked on to the end. Unfortunately the film does seem like that too, a little, and I know one of my friends is going to love it up until the last act, where he’ll probably get really angry with it... so that'll be an interesting conversation. However, as far as I’m concerned, the film is a direct sequel to the original Cloverfield, even though I’ve seen people arguing about it on message boards as to why it certainly isn’t. Yes, there are elements about the last act which make no sense in terms of having the information about the original that we already have but... that was always one of the main points about the original movie... but there’s also a big link to the ‘baby monsters’ aspect of that original too and I think, since the clue is kinda in the title, people should maybe ponder more about why it’s called that and enjoy the ‘gaps’ in the story which allow for the movie to fall under the Cloverfield umbrella. After all, there are big gaps in Abrams’ own Star Wars: The Force Awakens (reviewed here) and nobody complained about that... oh wait, yes they did. Still, he’s obviously a producer who’s not against leaving something for the imagination and in this movie, he doesn’t seem worried about the director leaving it for the audience to fill in the blanks as best it can. I’ll come back to this last sequence, with spoilers, a little later in this review.

Okay, so I have to say right up front that I really loved this movie, almost as much as the monster fuelled carnage of Cloverfield itself, although it’s probably not fair to the writers and director to directly compare the two as they are vastly different kinds of movies. This one starts off with what, for me, is the best sequence in the film... the pre-credits and opening credits sections which, seriously, I think should be required textbook viewing for people studying movie making. Starting out with the always excellent actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing the film’s main protagonist Michelle. She’s someone who I’ve seen in a few of these genre pieces and, frankly, the opening of this movie is fantastic as she plays in what is, essentially, a  mini silent film. We see her breaking up with her boyfriend but just from her point of view and by long distance... we never see her boyfriend even once in the film, just hear his voice near the end of the movie and, really, that’s no spoiler because the context of that says very little about the status of the characters.

This is all accompanied by Bear McCreary’s amazing tour-de-force of a score and it’s edited so beautifully, as is the title sequence where Michelle's car is wrecked, probably deliberately, and the sound design drops out strategically to accompany title inserts cut in to freeze the action in your mind and enhance the trauma of it as the noise of the crash keeps returning. It’s a visceral piece of film making, very intense and quite wonderful. Now the rest of the film certainly lives up to this opening but, for me, this three or four minutes at the start were worth the price of admission on this thing. Absolutely what cinema is all about and the reason why I’ll definitely be picking up the Blu Ray release somewhere along the line.

Okay, so then we get to the rest of the film where Michelle is ‘rescued/imprisoned’ by John Goodman’s character Howard and has to live with him and a guy called Emmet, who has found his way to the bunker (for other reasons I won’t reveal here), played by John Gallagher Jr. And you don’t know what’s coming next people! If you’ve seen the trailer, that whole climactic moment where Michelle breaks the bottle on Howard’s face and goes to open the bunker doors to the outside world is... actually within the first third of the movie, more or less. So don’t go in thinking you know what’s going to happen next because... you more than likely just don’t.

As I said, Winstead is cool in this (like she always is) and Gallagher Jr does a good job with a half sympathetic character. John Goodman, though, is extraordinary as the ‘unhinged’ antagonist of the film... I don’t want to say too much about his character and his slowly revealed past but, honestly, this is not the kind of guy you want to stay locked in a Cloverfield-proof bunker with. Not by a long shot.

And the film continues on in a fashion which is quite intense, wonderfully acted, wonderfully shot and with a genuine sense of skill and competence shown by the director. The editing is really beautiful too... latching on to something Steven Spielberg seems to do in his work also, which is to manipulate both time and visual space, truncating and lengthening specific parts of certain scenes to wring the maximum amount of suspense out of them. This is especially true of the ‘mad rush’ to the bunker door set piece which I highlighted earlier... as the director stretches and compresses certain parts of that chase which will have most audience members on the edge of their seats, I suspect. And this tension keeps going all the way through the movie.

I noticed that, for the last 20 minutes of the movie, for instance, the guy in the audience siting next to me had his hand clamped over his mouth in fright the whole time... which is a pretty impressive reaction, in my book. And that last part of the movie, post-bunker, is where the film connects up properly to Cloverfield... and I’m going to reveal that here now so I can discuss it... so if you don’t want to know, stop reading now...

Big spoilers start here!

When Michelle gets out of the bunker she is chased by a smaller Cloverfield monster and also what look like Alien spacecraft. Now much argument surrounds the identity of both the monster and the spacecraft but it seems pretty clear to me that the creature is a slightly grown version of the ‘spawn of Cloverfield’ mentioned, or heavily implied, in the first movie. The aliens could be something to do with them but the way they release gas makes me think that they are possibly wanting to tranquilise the monsters so... either the monsters and aliens are coincidental to each other and are natural enemies or... the aliens have released the monsters on the planet. Either way, it’s clear to me that the monster is similar in style to the creature in the first movie and that’s good enough for me. The whole fun comes from rubbing the two story elements together from each film and speculating on the connection... at least until a third project maybe comes to light.

Spoiler ends here.

And there you have it. An incredible film and, did I mention Bear McCreary’s score being an absolute masterpiece? It certainly is, at least in the context of the film itself. I’ve yet to hear a CD of it but I’ll snap it up as soon as it gets a non-download release because it was absolutely amazing. This composer goes from strength to strength and I hope he gets a lot more high profile films because of this one. Truly brilliant.

So there you go. 10 Cloverfield Lane is, in many ways, a bit of a future classic. The acting, editing, music and story elements are all superb and I even didn’t mind the tacked on nature of the Cloverfield element, grafted a little clumsily but not as badly as it could have been. This movie is a definite recommend from me and I can’t wait to see what director Dan Trachtenberg does next. Nor to see another Cloverfield movie, to be honest. Catch it in the cinema, which is the perfect venue for this kind of movie, before it goes.


  1. Nice review.

    A lot of people had problems with the last 20 minutes or so, but I liked the ending.

    - Zach

  2. Yeah. It was out of left field but definitely added to the experience, I think.