'10 Cloverfield Lane' Isn't The 'Cloverfield' Sequel Everyone Wants - It's Better

By James Jay Edwards
Released: March 11, 2016
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After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter by two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.

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Film Review
A couple of months ago, wonder-producer J.J. Abrams dropped the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the internet has been abuzz about the movie ever since. The hype gathered steam when it was announced that the movie would be in theaters on March 11, 2016. The whole thing was an enigma. Is it somehow related to 2008's Cloverfield like the title suggests, or is it something completely different? How did Abrams and company make a whole movie without anyone noticing? And, most importantly, would it be as good as the trailer made it look? Well, 10 Cloverfield Lane is here, and we've got some answers.

But first, a word to the true fanboys; 10 Cloverfield Lane is best entered into with as little knowledge as possible. While the following synopsis doesn't contain any huge spoilers, it does reveal some plot points that should be discovered organically by watching the movie. If any readers would like to live every twist and turn for the first time themselves, they'd be wise to skip the next paragraph.

Now that we've got that out of the way, 10 Cloverfield Lane is about a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) who gets into a car accident and wakes up with a broken leg in what she believes is a basement dungeon. When she meets the owner, a solid and imposing man named Howard (John Goodman from "Roseanne"), she learns that the dungeon is actually a survival bunker, that he really saved her life and didn't abduct her, and that the country is, in fact, under attack by someone or something that has poisoned the air. Michelle sits tight in the bunker with Howard and another man named Emmitt (Short Term 12's John Gallagher Jr.) while they wait out the crisis, but none of them knows how long they'll be waiting - or if there is really even a crisis outside in the first place.

10 Cloverfield Lane.  Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures.

The screenplay for 10 Cloverfield Lane started out as a spec script for Abrams' Bad Robot production company called "The Cellar" by a pair of writers named Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken. After a few rewrites by Oscar nominated screenwriter Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, Grand Piano), Abrams hired first-time feature director Dan Trachtenberg and pushed the film into production under the title Valencia - not even the actors knew the title would be 10 Cloverfield Lane until the trailer was released two months before the movie. And that is how J.J. Abrams made a Cloverfield movie in absolute secrecy.

While it is every bit as good as the trailer promises, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not exactly the movie that it pretends to be. The threat to the bunker's inhabitants is centered within the bunker itself as opposed to outside of its walls, so the movie has a constant suspenseful atmosphere of claustrophobic mistrust and fear. It's a tense psychological thriller with plenty of surprises, with the heroine ever-so-slowly discovering who she can and cannot trust. There are some inconsistencies and improbabilities along the way, but they only serve to give the movie just the right amount of surrealism as it builds to its inevitable third act blowup. And the third act really does blow up - it becomes a completely different movie for about the last twenty minutes, but that's fine, because it happens right about the time when the "lifeboat" containment angle starts to get stale.

Now, for the big question; is 10 Cloverfield Lane a sequel to Cloverfield? The short answer is no, it's not. It really has nothing to do with Cloverfield. It's entirely possible that it takes place in the same universe, but the two films are unrelated. One can enjoy 10 Cloverfield Lane without having seen Cloverfield, and vice-versa. And everyone really should go out and enjoy 10 Cloverfield Lane, because it's great. Just don't think too much about it ahead of time - it'll be better that way.
The best thing that J.J. Abrams and Dan Trachtenberg could have done for 10 Cloverfield Lane was to not shoot it as a found-footage movie, and that's exactly what they did. The film was shot in a traditional filmic style by cinematographer Jeff Cutter (Orphan, A Nightmare on Elm Street), and that's really the best way to tell the story. Cutter uses a surprising amount of wide shots that manage to show all three characters at the same time while still emphasizing the containment of the cramped living quarters. The whole film is bathed in artificial and motivated light to help illustrate the manufactured aspect of the confinement, and Cutter does a great job at shooting these low-light scenes in a way that shows the audience everything that they need to see. Cutter also takes advantage of camera angles to show the shifts in power within the bunker, with whomever is in control at the time being placed at a higher eyeline than the others. There's a lot of stuff that happens photographically that wouldn't have been possible in the found-footage style, so it's good that 10 Cloverfield Lane didn't follow Cloverfield's lead in that regard.
Scary Factor
It's not being billed as a horror film, but make no mistake; 10 Cloverfield Lane is scary. The entire film is built on a foundation of tension and paranoia, with little bursts of shocking violence and startling anger peppered throughout. There are a handful of good jump scares, and their scarcity only makes them that much more effective when they do pop up. The viewer gets the feeling that Howard can snap at any time, and as Michelle learns more and more about the man who has saved/captured her, he gets more and more unstable. Which, in a tiny bunker under a farmhouse with no one around to hear any screams, is absolutely terrifying. It may be considered first and foremost a sci-fi mystery, but 10 Cloverfield Lane has its share of scares, too.

10 Cloverfield Lane.  Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Release Date
March 11, 2016
MPAA Rating
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Music Score