9 years ago, when Transformers was just hitting cinema screens, there was a mysterious trailer attached to it that got a LOT of attention. No credits, no information, just a flurry of images presented in found footage format with it culminating in the decapitation of Lady Liberty herself with one word: Cloverfield. Word spread, viral marketing peaked an almighty high and people got excited about the prospect of seeing this film. It worked as a fun, found-footage monster movie but in typical J.J Abrams style, left a lot open ended and raised a number of questions, to which many people expected a sequel. Flash forward to January 2016, and a trailer gets attached to yet another Michael Bay produced flick (coincidental?) with the banner 'Cloverfield' before revealing the full title of 10 Cloverfield Lane. I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one who lost my collective mind at the prospect of a sequel or some sort of tie-in (though Director Dan Trachtenberg and Abrams both stated the film is more of a 'spiritual successor), but more importantly, is it a decent enough film?
I'll start off by saying that the film is DEFINITELY NOT a sequel. There's no mention of an attack on New York, a giant monster demolishing statues or little crab creatures sucking blood out of people. Instead, 10 Cloverfield Lane uses the Cloverfield brand to creature the same allure of mystery and intrigue, to use the same ideas thematically rather than churn out a sequel to an already existing idea. However, when the majority of the film is a tense, claustrophobic thriller/horror, the sci-fi aspect feels a little tacked on just to earn its title of a 'Cloverfield' film. It begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaving town after what one presumes to be a break up with her partner, wonderfully referencing the beginning of 'Pyscho' in a series of familiar shots, getting involved in a car accident and waking up chained to a bed in an underground bunker. Howard (John Goodman) tells her that there has been a chemical attack, leaving the air contaminated and the earth uninhabitable, and that he has rescued her so she can remain inside with Howard and fellow survivor Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). But Howard is hiding more than he lets on, and Michelle must ask herself, which is more terrifying? Inside or outside?
Before I discuss the film's biggest twist in the final act, I'll talk about '10 Cloverfield Lane' as it should be: a terrific, suspenseful thriller and horror. First feature-length film Director Dan Trachtenberg nails the claustrophobic atmosphere within the bunker, narrowly manoeuvring between the three rooms as closely and intricately as the three characters, there are moments that are truly nail-biting and certainly got my heart rate beating. In true Hitchcock style, there's the rule of three, the close-ups, the long takes, the rapid cuts. Trachtenberg has done his homework, and also relies heavily on the mystery and the unknown, which makes John Goodman's Howard truly terrifying. Is he telling the truth? Should we believe him? Brilliantly, Trachtenberg never breaks this illusion by telling us too much, everything is merely implied or heavily suggestful, he gives us the pieces but it is ultimately up to us to put the puzzle together, even if it is not a complete one. And this, dear readers, is what makes '10 Cloverfield Lane' so terrifying. It plays into our most primal fears about what we don't know, and if we don't know something, there is certainly no chance of avoiding it or overcoming it. This mystery is consistent all throughout the film and everything is executed brilliantly, cranking up the suspense at all times but often there is humour injected to balance things out. An example being a fantastic scene where the characters are playing 'Articulate', unbeknownst to Howard Michelle and Emmett have been making a gas mask and suit in secrecy, and Howard, begins his turn. He stares intently at both of them, growling "I see you always. I know what you're doing. I am always watching always. You can't hide from me", Michelle begins to panic and the camera leans in, capturing the panic in Michelle and Emmett and before Michelle crumbles, Emmett shouts "Santa Claus! You're Santa Claus" to which Howard composes himself, smiles and gives himself a point. A brilliant moment of sheer suspense and terror injected with a brief moment of comedy.
As the performances go, considering it's only three actors (pretty much), John Goodman steals the show in a performance that I genuinely feel is Oscar-worthy. Howard is twisted, mentally unhinged yet so utterly intriguing, from random bursts of anger to more subtle moments of terror, he has so much to hide that you never really know his intentions but you fear what they may be so you never let yourself indulge in the idea, he shrouds himself in a darkness that warrants the tagline 'Monsters come in many forms'. Winstead shines as the leading lady, taking on a Sigourney-Weaver-in-Alien-mode role, using her quick thinking to get her out of certain situations and actually is smart to think of ideas to outwit her captor. No damsel in distress here! John Gallagher Jr. gains a few laughs in a dorky role that feels a little too padded as the comic relief but it was nice to see that mentality bounce off against the darkness of Howard and the panic of Michelle.
I won't spoil the ending because the less you know the better, but it takes a twist into the sci-fi realm, evoking feelings of The Twilight Zone for one of a better example, that you don't see coming, but feels completely out of place with the rest of the film. Thematically and stylistically it felt unnecessary and just, strange. Like going from Hitchcock to Independence Day, it felt as if Abrams and the team at Bad Robot needed this ending to warrant the 'Cloverfield' name, when really, the film stood strong by itself, when it had a working title of The Cellar. It'll polarise audiences but personally, it wasn't for me.
Clever, masterfully executed and suspenseful in a way that would make Hitchcock proud, 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers as a stand alone film to its predecessor, though a disjointed third act weakens an otherwise solid picture. Nevertheless, my favourite film of 2016 so far!