What does Beyoncé and JJ Abrams have in common? The ability to fully produce a project unbeknownst to the general public and then suddenly drop said secret surprise project to mass acclaim. Twice. Kinda.
The other day I had been wondering who else in the entertainment industry could be capable of pulling a “Beyoncé” other than Beyoncé herself, and lo and behold, I find Mr. Abrams pulling a Bad Robot surprise out of his hat. First, let me start off by saying that just like Cloverfield, Abrams is only a producer on this film. But when it comes to a Bad Robot feature, “only a producer” is an understatement.
10 Cloverfield Lane might be one of my favorite films so far of 2016. And that’s saying a lot. Yes, I’m a bit of “stan” when it comes to anything JJ Abrams has his hands on, but for good reason. He is a master storyteller and sets up intrigue and mystery that might make Hitchcock pause. I also found this film to be a great study for those looking to get into filmmaking and storytelling in general. I’ll explain more, while avoiding spoilers.
10 Cloverfield Lane starts with our hero, Michelle (play by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), on the run, supposedly from an ex fiancé and whatever life she had, but driving off into the night until she gets into an accident. Then… titles. Michelle wakes up hooked up to an IV and chained to a wall. I got worried for her, thinking that maybe she has now found herself in a Saw-esque scenario, but I reminded myself this is PG-13 and we probably won’t get that dark. My opinions on this notion changed later in the film, but nonetheless, Michelle does panic at first, but composes herself and gets into survival/escape mode.
Enter Howard (fantastically owned by John Goodman), Michelle’s savior(?) who may or may not be a complete paranoid lunatic, who just so happens to have a pretty awesome doomsday bunk. Howard tries to level with Michelle, telling her that all she knows of the outside world is dead and gone. Could it be a nuclear attack or accident? Maybe it’s the Russians, maybe it’s the Martians, maybe it’s the trees (no, this is not The Happening), but whatever it is, it’s out there killing us, and it’s in the air. Or is it anything at all? Are you safer in the bunker with ultra-survivalist Howard? Or outside where there may or may not be toxic poisons?
What I love about this film is that you won’t be left wondering for too long what is really happening, who is telling the truth, and who you can actually trust. The cast really only comprises of 3 people. Emmett, a friend of Howard, is also living in the bunk and we learn how and why he got there. They all have great chemistry with each other, even when they are at odds.
Now the big question everyone asks: Is this a sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I can defiantly say no. Not really. Wikipedia calls this film a “spiritual successor” which makes a lot of sense. It shares a lot of themes and ideas as the original. The most prevalent theme is the threat of a monster. If you look at promos for both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, they play with the idea of monsters. And for someone like me, who is a fan of the original, you can’t help but think that whatever is going on outside of the bunker is related to what happened in NYC in 2008. But no, you don’t need to see the original before you see this one, however I’d recommend it anyway because I enjoyed it. I’d go as far as compare these Cloverfield films to The Twilight Zone.
The other question I get asked is if this is a scary movie. I’ve learned over the years that people define “scary” several different ways. It’s more accurate to call this a thriller with sci-fi elements and a few jump scares if you’re not paying attention. If you’re wondering if you should bring your kids, you can but it’s not for them.
But there’s not much more I can say other than I was extremely satisfied with what transpired and how it ended. Winstead’s character is not, I repeat, NOT playing a damsel in distress. The writing is top notch, and for first time feature film director Dan Trachtenberg, excellent execution. And in the season of superheroes and huge action sequences, this was massively refreshing thriller in a tight space, on a tight budget that hopefully was a perfectly timed cash-grab for the surprise surprising movie I’m willing to throw more money at.