One of the best things about 2008’s Cloverfield was its grippingly mysterious marketing. It was also a story that seemed sensical to continue and in true Cloverfield-fashion, the sequel was indeed marketed in an out-of-the-box and notable way. How? Well, by no-one even mentioning it until the trailer came out and the entire film was already finished! That’s right, this is a movie that was made 100% in secret (a noticeably uncommon occurrence here in the culture where things like the subtitle of an upcoming Spider-Man movie makes IMDb headlines).
However, if the first Cloverfield was the Blair Witch Project of monster movies, this film is in most senses the Blair Witch 2: it is no longer presented as found-footage, it doesn’t take place in the same fictional universe, and it isn’t as good. Heck, it doesn’t even involve a monster in the same way that the first film did. Guess the actor was unavailable (T.J. Miller, I mean).
Produced by the king of mystery himself J.J. Abrams, and directed by newcomer Dan Trachtenberg, its plot involves a young girl named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who finds herself in the captivity of Howard (John Goodman), a highly paranoid and threatening behemoth. The latter claims that he is doing this to keep her safe from unknown attackers and that everyone else in the world is already dead from fallout by now. She learns that Howard’s place is actually a heavily sealed fallout shelter and that another inhabitant, Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.), has seen the attackers himself, so he claims. He’s just not entirely sure who they were. Or what.
The film’s main source of suspense is the dynamic between Howard and his two captives, with the tension rising as more of his horrifying secrets unveil and his true colors keep shifting. John Goodman’s performance is what sells it, but his co-stars do a similarly splendid job. In fact, I cared far more about what was happening amongst the three of them inside that bunker than about the eventual revelation of the attackers’ true nature. I feel like the film could have ended sooner.
As is to be expected with Abrams productions, the film contains several easter eggs that hint at something bigger within its own universe. At least I’m pretty certain I saw something. During a scene where Michelle comes face-to-face with an “infected woman”, I was fairly sure I spotted a shady figure in the background for a split second, ominously observing the action at hand. Maybe Abrams intended for this to take place in his Fringe universe rather than his Cloverfield one?
Though it doesn’t achieve the same sense of fear and despair we felt during that other Cloverfield movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane gets a lot of it right. It works skillfully with its limited setting, creating genuine intensity not through grandiose VFX sequences or action spectacles, but through believable acting and drama. The camera work and the music are effective complements throughout. I will award this film a 4/5. Had the latter parts eased up on the dumb horror movie tropes and if certain plot advancements weren’t either implausibly convenient or just plain silly, chances are I’d have aimed even higher.
And yet again, the marketing for this film is something that others who work in Hollywood should take extensive notes on. Unlike most modern-day trailers, where either the entire film is summarized and spoiled (Batman v Superman) or all the highlights are shown instead of being saved for those who pay to see the movie (Deadpool), the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane is all about getting you hooked and playing on your expectations.
First we wonder what the nature is of the relationship between the three principal characters. Is it two young lovers having an awkward visit at one of their dad’s place, or, wait a second, is it something more sinister? Then we wonder where exactly they are. Then we learn that one of them is indeed a captor, but that he is also trying to protect them from something. The last thing we see is the young woman escaping, the older man warning her of what’s out there. What? What is out there? We don’t know. We have to pay the movie to see it. It may not have been that ground-breakingly cool a discovery in the movie itself, nor do I want to praise a trailer too much for simply doing what ALL movie trailers should be doing, but boy do I hope that this trailer will set an example.
EDIT: I mentioned up top that these films can be likened to the Blair Witch movies. I should clarify a difference: I consider both Cloverfield movies to be very good, whereas the second Blair Witch is a vastly inferior sequel to a movie that, in my mind, has not aged very well.