Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
“Outside is dangerous… inside is terrifying.”
From the very first shot, you know this is not going to be a sequel in the traditional sense. We have a wide view out a window, the camera slowly pulling back to take in the whole room, small objects scattered about giving hints about the person or people who occupy this space. The shot is steady and smooth, no longer limited to the jerky perspective of a camcorder.
Still, there are aspects that remain from the original Cloverfield. Once again the audience is simply dropped into the scene as Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Fargo) packs her bag. The tone of this action conveyed not only by the tenseness of her body, but by the limited sound perspective. We don’t hear what’s going on around Michelle, only the swelling background music. She is fully in her own head at this moment, the rest of the world drowned out by her need to finish packing, and while we don’t hear the actual thoughts pinging around in her head, we’re able to still capture that focus from this limitation. This is one of the many ways the audience will be placed within Michelle’s body throughout the film, even without the quasi-first perspective from the original film. The last thing she does before leaving is place a diamond ring on a table, in some ways offering the only context you really need–even if it prompts further questions about the specifics of why.
As she begins driving there aren’t many clear indicators of place other than the fact that she owns an iPhone, which at the very least lets us know that this film doesn’t take place around the same time as the original. There’s no real indication of where Michelle is going, or even if she herself has a clear destination in mind. All we are offered is her movement and the music, until a jarring honk breaks through Michelle’s thoughts. In the following moments, she begins to take in her surroundings more, and the audience is offered the same opportunity as we begin to hear more of the rumble of the engine or the radio with mentions of rolling blackouts throughout the area. Soon after, her phone begins ringing and we get our first dialogue, albeit a one-sided conversation of Ben begging Michelle to come home, that it was just a fight, as she silently listens to his pleas. She hangs up, he calls back, and then we see the flash of headlights in her rearview mirror right before she is swept off the road.
Much as with how Cloverfield jumped between the sci-fi terror of the monsters and the everyday drama of Rob and Beth’s last day together “before” that was being filmed over, this is the break between reality and fantasy.
One of the most standout parts of this movie is the well-balanced uncertainty of what is actually going on and what will happen next, so I don’t want to say much about plot details beyond this point. In fact, while there were certainly new and interesting things I picked up on while rewatching 10 Cloverfield Lane for the purpose of this review, I felt like the overall experience wasn’t quite as enjoyable when I knew how things were going to end up. When I was originally thinking of reviewing this film I felt certain that it was a 4 out of 5 kind of movie–an obvious step above the original with powerful cinematography and performances from the entire cast–but without the intensity of anticipation, it seemed to be missing part of the edge that drew me in originally.
What I will say is that Michelle wakes up after the crash in a cement block room. Howard (John Goodman, Roseanne and Monsters Inc.) brings her food shortly after she comes to, but it’s impossible to know how long she’s actually been unconscious. Her phone says it’s only a few minutes past the time of her crash, implying at least a day has gone by if not more. Throughout the entire movie, one of the few indicators of time passing is Michelle’s fingernails, but even this is largely guesswork. When she was driving her car, they seemed well maintained and freshly painted, but by the time she later wakes up, they are already chipping and they continue to show subtle signs of growing out throughout the film.
Howard is visibly uncomfortable around Michelle, talking of how he rescued her from her wrecked car but also clearly uncertain about what he should do next, that uncertainty often leading to frustration and anger. He explains that they’re underground, that something has happened and it’s not safe outside. Emmett (John Gallagher Jr., The News Room and Spring Awakening) is the only other person in the bunker. He tells Michelle that he forced himself inside right as Howard was locking the door after a light filled the sky, but doesn’t seem to know much more about what could be happening than Michelle herself.
This limited cast and setting at first glance seems so far removed from the larger cast of personalities and the expansive setting of Manhattan from Cloverfield, something that makes even more sense when you learn that 10 Cloverfield Lane was originally written as its own project. But when you think about it more, you start to see how these two wildly different approaches are used to accomplish the same thing. Cloverfield has a central cast of six with a constantly shifting setting populated by nameless extras, but it also has a forced perspective from which to view everything. 10 Cloverfield Lane is severely limited in both cast and setting, featuring only three characters and a handful of rooms, which places boundaries on what would otherwise be an omnipotent view of the world at large. We might see a few moments that don’t include Michelle at all, but because the audience is aware of how small the bunker is, you can always feel the presence of the other characters outside of the scene. In every moment you are tied to their experiences, whether by sight or sound or some other layer entirely.
So far, this close attachment to characters dealing with intense or just flat out insane situations seems to be the overarching branding of what it means to be a Cloverfield movie. It’s also what draws me to them. Sure, lots of horror movies attempt to do the same because they want the audience to feel the terror of the characters, but few are as successful as the Cloverfield franchise. While other movies strive to put you in the shoes of the characters, their main goal is usually still to create a cohesive world where you understand who the characters were before and how they will live their lives after the credits roll. While this is always an important aspect of any story, the Cloverfield franchise seems to place a greater importance on the individual moments happening, trusting that the viewer can fill in the spaces with their own theories. This is no easy task to succeed in, and the fact that both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane are able to accomplish this is a powerful testament to the meticulous way every sound you hear and every moment you see is carefully crafted. Admittedly, this style of storytelling is not for everyone, but I can’t get enough of it.
“People are strange creatures. You can’t always convince them that safety is in their best interest.”
I feel that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a bit of an unexciting thriller. The suspense felt forced and the threats seemed manageable. When you finally get to the end of the movie, it seems to say to you, “Now the really exciting stuff is going to happen, but you’re not allowed to see much of that.” Roll credits.