So I guess we can actually say there is now a Cloverfield franchise? That certainly seems to be the case with the release of “10 Cloverfield Lane”. Whether this is the first of several Cloverfield tie-ins, who knows, but I do wonder if the creators of the original film (a 2008 surprise hit) ever envisioned this thing being a series.
This film is nestled in the Cloverfield universe but is not a direct sequel. In fact it differentiates itself in a number of ways. Its narrative connections to the previous film are vague. The visual approach is significantly different. The first film used the once popular found-footage technique while this one (thankfully) stays away from it. The two films even dabble in completely different genres.
“Cloverfield” was a Godzilla-like science fiction monster movie. “10 Cloverfield Lane” plays around in several genres, but at its core it is a psychological thriller. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle who leaves New Orleans after an argument with her fiancé. Later that night, while driving across rural Louisiana, she has a car accident that knocks her unconscious. She wakes up to find herself chained to wall of a small concrete room.
A creepy and cryptic John Goodman plays Howard – the man who brought her to his fully furnished underground bunker. He explains that there has been an attack either by foreign countries or alien forces which left everyone on the outside dead and the air saturated with lethal radiation. An overwhelmed Michelle must determine whether to fear Howard as her captor or be thankful for him saving her life. There is one other piece of the puzzle. Emmitt DeWitt (John Gallagher, Jr.) is also in the bunker but the reason and his intentions are a mystery.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” ratchets down on the psychological thrills. For the majority of the film the events outside the bunker take a backseat to the intense drama within. In his directorial debut Dan Trachtenberg shows an impressive understanding of pacing and tension building. His focus on character dynamics serve as the main source of tension and suspense. It slowly builds through character interactions. Trachtenberg maintains a level of uncertainty while never tipping his hand.
He does overplay his hand a bit in the final act. I wouldn’t say the film has a poor ending, but the approach, both visually and narratively, clash with the tone the rest of the film worked hard to develop. In a weird way I appreciated the sudden jolt the final act gives. At the same time I couldn’t help but feel it belonged in a different movie.
I’m actually intrigued to see where the Cloverfield franchise goes next. This installment made over $100 million against a $15 million budget so I’m sure we will get more of them. I would love to see them follow this film’s blueprint of playing around with different ideas while making characters the chief focus. But hopefully they won’t feel compelled to tack on another popcorn movie ending that feels completely at odds with everything else they are going for.
VERDICT – 4 STARS