Liam Austen discusses whether 10 Cloverfield Lane is just another lacklustre sequel, or whether it has a lot more to offer than its name.
Never have I been so dubious about watching a film as I was before seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane. The film was only announced in January, not even two months before screening in cinemas worldwide. Rumours quickly swirled of the film being just an adaptation of an old script called ‘The Cellar’, the Cloverfield name being slapped on it to attract viewers. The budget was too small for it to be a Cloverfield film, according to some fans. The trailer didn’t show any Cloverfield monsters. I had no idea what to expect from a mainstream horror movie that shares a name with what is, in my opinion, one of the genre’s best films in recent years, yet gave no indication of it being related whatsoever. Thankfully I left the cinema blindsided, scared and absolutely impressed.
It’s hard to talk about the film in detail without giving too much away, and 10 Cloverfield Lane is one that you have to go into with limited knowledge in order to realise its full potential. I’ll set up the beginning of the story – Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a 20-something-year-old woman (that’s literally all we find out about her) is leaving her boyfriend, packing her bags and vacating their shared apartment after leaving her keys and engagement ring on the counter. She drives through the night, her destination remaining unknown and her boyfriend’s calls remaining unanswered, until an unseen vehicle drives her off the road, the sudden crash being one of the most effective jump scares I’ve ever witnessed in a horror film. It didn’t feel forced, unnecessary or contrived – it was loud, really loud, and purely uncomfortable. That is exactly what you want from a horror film, and it’s a relentless way to drag the viewer into the main story arc.
In fact, the sound design is one of the major highlights of the film, and it is employed to full effect once Michelle wakes up in a bunker underneath Howard Stambler (John Goodman)’s farmhouse, at – you’ve guessed it – 10 Cloverfield Lane. The ominous footsteps, heavy silence and deafening rumbles of the outside world create a claustrophobic and uncomfortable environment both for Michelle and the viewer, and Goodman’s performance only adds to this feeling with his mysterious and unpredictable behaviour. It’s worth mentioning here that John Gallagher Jr. is a perfect supporting character as Emmett, the other guy trapped underground who buys into Goodman’s stories of a nuclear war making the outside an uninhabitable wasteland.
Making a feature film with just three actors is no easy feat and there’s a risk of the viewer getting bored with the same faces, but the character development is complex, making you feel like you know them, but with the underlying feeling that you don’t know them at all. There’s several sequences in the film that spend a lot of time brewing tension with just the character’s conversations, and all you can do is sit squirming in your seat waiting for one of them to reach boiling point.
However, a majority of these scenes are just red herrings, misleading you so that you’re left unprepared for the film’s real climax – and it’s one that you will not predict. Being part of the ‘Cloverfield’ universe you’ll obviously be expecting more than just humans – the film’s tagline is, after all, “monsters come in many forms” – but it is definitely not Clover roaming around above the bunker. I’m not going to give it away so you can be surprised when you watch, but the feeling of sheer dread and distress does not lift once above ground. Dan Trachtenberg, the film’s director, does an incredible job of making every situation feel way too small for both the characters and the viewer, whether the scene be within an air vent or in a vast crop field. Sufferers of claustrophobia may find it to be a particularly uncomfortable watch.
It’s a film that is hard to pin down, and for that reason the film works so well. The last act may be a little too excessive considering how understated the majority of its plot truly is, but that’s not to say that it ruins it at all. The unpredictability of what will happen next is what most modern horror films nowadays fail to achieve, which excels this film to the top of its genre, especially in recent years. Whether you’re a fan of the first film or not is irrelevant – 10 Cloverfield Lane stands on its own as an incredible piece of filmmaking, made even better by the fact that nobody saw it coming, in a similar fashion to what happens within the bunker’s walls.
Watch the 10 Cloverfield Lane trailer below:
Film: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
Studio: Paramount Pictures