It’s not often that a movie goes through the entire production process completely under the radar. Heck, we already know that the tenth Fast and Furious movie is hitting theaters April 2, 2021… five years from now. That’s years, people.
So how did 10 Cloverfield Lane sneak up on us?
Well, credit the man behind the curtain, producer JJ Abrams, who has made a career of keeping projects secret. He brought us Super 8, Lost, and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens without so much as a tiny plot point seeing the light of day before he wanted it to.
10 Cloverfield Lane is perhaps his most brilliant secret yet, a complete unknown until not even two months ago. But it won’t stay unknown for long.
Abrams is calling it a “blood relative” to Cloverfield, the 2008 found-footage flick about a big monsters on the rampage in Manhattan, but it’d be hard to consider it even that. Aside from one character’s pit stop at a Kelvin convenience store (an Easter Egg-y reference to Abrams’ grandfather), there’s not a thing here that would tie the two movies together… any more than the Cornetto ice cream (and Simon Pegg) connected Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, and The World’s End.
But that doesn’t mean that 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t stand on it’s own as a helluva thrill ride.
After a car accident knocks her unconscious, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a cinder block bunker, handcuffed to a drainpipe. Her savior/captor is Howard (John Goodman), who will only tell her that she can’t go outside, because “there’s nowhere to go” and “there’s been an attack.”
After a bit, we meet Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who has a broken arm that he claims he got trying to fight his way into the bunker. Like Howard, though, he seems to know more than he’s letting on. But who knows?
And therein lies the brilliance of the movie. Not so much a horror flick or a drama (though there are elements of both) as much as it is a bona fide nail-biter, 10 Cloverfield Lane punches all the right buttons and keeps everyone (including Michelle) guessing until the very last minute.
The script by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Whiplash‘s Damien Chazelle is as taut as piano wire, as sparse as an abandoned lot, and just about as spot-on as you could want. We’re only given the bare minimum (along with some tasty red herrings) along the way. And even though there’s a plot hole or two (which you’ll only notice if you really stop to think), the story more than holds up.
In the capable (novice) hands of director Dan Trachtenberg the movie hums along briskly, barely letting the audience come up for air but for a couple well-placed scenes of normalcy. The bulk of the film’s 1:43 run time is a tense thrill, punctuated by Bear McCreary’s haunting score and Jeff Cutter’s expert camera work.
Goodman has never been creepier (or harder to decipher) and Winstead is a true casting coup, giving Brie Larson a run for her money in the world of actresses playing women trapped in a small room. It’s a superbly nuanced performance that may well have gone off the rails in another actress’s hands.
Without giving anything away, I’ll say that the ending is sure to cause at least a modicum of discussion (so see it quickly, before you’re privy to a spoiler). The resolution (such as it is) works– and works well. While on the surface 10 Cloverfield Lane may share only the name of a gas station with its “relative”, it does also offer the same high-anxiety, keep-you-guessing feel that Cloverfield supplied, and that’s plenty good enough for them both to exist in the same Abrams-verse.