Let’s just get this straight: I fucking love Cloverfield.
Growing up I had a big thing for mystery-based sci-fi. I was obsessed with various books on Bigfoot, the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster, I was a huge Lost junkie, I appreciated Prometheus for its high-concept mystery and I’m currently a massive Leftovers junkie. Cloverfield of course fit into that genre too, and was pretty much the perfect movie to satisfy my hungry nerd needs. There’s a ton of room for speculation, it’s rich in mystery, it’s tense, the characters are interesting, the found-footage concept is awesome – it’s all just wonderful. I don’t think I saw Cloverfield in 2008, but my mother and I both watched it sometime close to then, and she too became obsessed. During the development and marketing for Super 8 I was convinced that it was definitely a prequel to the movie, or related in some way (I still think that) and remember sharing all the trickling details with her. It became something familial, and thus its relevance increased.
Over the years I’ve remained quietly interested in another Cloverfield movie, but accepted that it would probably never happen. Both J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, and the other folks at Bad Robot, had gone on to bigger and better things. Other stories had arisen to satisfy my hungry nerd needs – The Leftovers, as stated, which is a brilliant show. The movie would forever exist as a relic of my childhood, of my insatiable appetite for intelligent, mysterious, high-concept science fiction.
Flash forward to January. A trailer for some mysterious Cloverfield sequel with big names such as John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead attached drops out of the sky – the internet goes nuts. Darn you, J.J.!
I of course swiftly showed my mum the trailer, whom also loved it and got really excited. The fact that this movie came out of nowhere is so quintessentially-Bad Robot that I’m surprised none of us theorized it happening sooner. Nonetheless, I was very, very excited, and I’m incredibly glad to say that 10 Cloverfield Lane lived up to all of my expectations.
The first thing I should praise about it is how friggin’ tense it is. There are certain scenes where the air is so thick you couldn’t cut it with a chainsaw. The entire bunker feels rigged to blow at any second, and the overbearing nature of John Goodman’s Howard makes you fearful that he’ll be waiting around every corner. The movie transports you into this distorted, horrific narrative where you could be faced with years underground because of a situation you don’t fully understand with people you don’t fully understand. That’s what’s perhaps the scariest thing about this film, which director Dan Trachtenberg really hits home: you never have any concrete idea of what’s about to happen or what each character is going through, and when you start to feel at ease or feel like you know where it’s going you get punched in the face. It’s an easy compliment to throw around, but I really do mean it here.
None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the excellent performances. John Goodman has been repeatedly lauded in reviews, and for good reason; he’s gruff and fragile and creepy and brutal and, again, you never quite know what to expect from him. He’s evidently some kind of crazy guy right from the beginning, but the specific kind of crazy is slowly unravelled through his at-times-subtle performance and the rich dialogue. He gave an easily Oscar-worthy performance, although I doubt the Academy will recognise this film beyond its fantastic sound design.
However, I feel as if Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. are getting short-changed in these reviews – they’re both great. Winstead showed versatility as Michelle, transforming her into a memorable, badass heroine; as someone who had only ever previously seen her in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, I never even realised she was capable of such a compelling performance. She isn’t sassy or stereotypically badass, but is instead subtle and driven. Her emotional journey is what makes her a badass, which is ultimately more interesting. Gallagher Jr. also put in a very underrated performance as Emmett – the kind of guy who I could picture being the stoner friend of the group, who doesn’t ever let on how he’s really feeling. Well, we learn a lot about how he does feel and the regrets he harbours in the movie, but I got the impression that prior to going down to the bunker he was quite closed-off. He’s funny and sweet with a dash of tragedy, and feels more relatable than Michelle at times, who remains relatively closed-off throughout the movie. They’re both contrasting yet interesting characters with a lot of chemistry. Both of these actors did fine jobs.
I’ve read a lot of people complaining about the film’s ending, saying that it’s a tonal shift and doesn’t work with the rest of the film. While I understand these complaints, I don’t share them, and liked that they followed through with this plot rather than going for where it felt like it was going – which would have been generic. My only issue was that it all felt a little too much. Cloverfield isn’t exactly a subtle movie, but the insanity of the events is contrasted with the mystery and general WTF-ness of what’s going on. The ending to 10 Cloverfield Lane felt a little too generic and overstated. I feel like I could accurately piece together the general plot and potential follow-up, and while I do like getting answers, I know it’s ultimately more interesting if things are reserved. You’ll get it when you see the movie.
And you really should. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an exciting little genre thriller framed around overcoming our fears, and the dangers of being absorbed by them. It’s a powerful and resonant message at any time, and the movie packs a punch with its excellent pacing, intricate characters and white-hot tension. You don’t have to have seen Cloverfield, either; when I saw it earlier myself and an elderly lady were the only people in the cinema, and while she was slightly confused by the ending she thought the film was excellent. That seems to be the general consensus – and the general consensus is always right!
My interpretation from the movie is that it is clearly linked to Cloverfield, however it doesn’t have to be if you want it to be separate. J.J. Abrams and Trachtenberg have hinted at a “bigger idea” they’re wanting to do, and there are two theories about what that may entail. The first is that all of these movies (of course there’ll be more) are part of one, ongoing narrative; the other is that “Cloverfield” is to be the name of an anthology series wherein filmmakers get to tell small, character-driven stories against a high-concept sci-fi backdrop. I’d be perfectly happy with either result; part of me is still craving some solid answers on what the fuck happened in Cloverfield, however I think a larger part of me has made peace with the idea that we’re not going to get any answers (except when I get J.J. drunk enough at the Oscars in a few years). It will indeed become a relic of my childhood, albeit one with some happy memories attached to it, and I’m excited to see how this potential new universe will flourish and create more excitement and wonder for other film-crazed kids out there.
So get out the house and go watch 10 Cloverfield Lane right now.