Funny thing about this movie, or more precisely, how I reacted to the trailer. “I’ll never pay to see a movie with John Goodman!” I said, and never went to see it theatrically because of that. It isn’t that I hate Goodman, but for some reason he annoys me. Like Morgan Freeman, seeing him on the big screen is not something I enjoy. I can’t explain it, then again, I don’t have to. Watching 10 Cloverfield Lane last night, I realized that I’d robbed myself of a very decent cinematic experience.
Produced by JJ Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for anyone living under a rock), the trailer for this movie landed with the force of an unexpected meteor sometime in either late January or early February 2016, as I recall, and quickly went viral. “They made a sequel to Cloverfield and nobody knew about it?!” cried the internet. Like the 2007 trailer for Cloverfield, except this time no boneheaded fan-theories about Voltron or Cthulhu. The trailer itself looked small and felt tense, but beyond the world “Cloverfield” in the title, there was nothing else seemingly connected. Which was good, because a fan of Cloverfield I am not.
I’m not sure how I managed to avoid spoilers for this movie, because the ending is really the only major talking point. Some people are going to hate it, some will think it’s dumb (like a colleague of mine), some will enjoy it. I’m firmly in that section. Without knowing what was going to happen, I was happily surprised by how the movie quickly changes focus here. I suppose my only criticism of it is that it might have been more effective if it had been shorter. As it is, Act 3 feels like maybe five minutes too long, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t contain anything I haven’t seen before, especially a particular movie from the mid 2000s.
Up to that point, I actually thought it was quite well done. There are enough switchbacks in the sparse plot to keep an audience guessing as to the direction of the movie and the intentions of the characters, all of which makes for an engaging experience. Of course, this is all necessary where you are dealing with a restriction of environment and character, and the writers Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken, with Damien Chazelle, do a good job of making both elements interesting. The focus on character throughout was something I appreciated, and the three actors, John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr (whom I’d never heard of before) are all believable enough for this kind of movie. But while all three are given some good, character-defining moments, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more. The pre-credits scene with Michelle is very well done, I thought – every other scene she appears in from that point on doesn’t offer much more insight to her character, though.
But the big question is, how much of sequel to Cloverfield this movie really is. For anyone who hasn’t read up on the movie, I’m not going to spoil anything here, other than to say that the movie is exactly what I suspected it was once the (well designed) end credits roll: it’s clearly a screenplay that was not originally written to be a Cloverfield sequel, so that when the actual connection to that movie is revealed, you realize how tenuous it actually is. To say anything more would be giving away too much detail.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to go in to 10 Cloverfield Lane having seen Cloverfield. It’s a self-contained, stand-alone movie that is more about the shifting emotions humans experience when cooped up together than it is about sci fi or horror; fear, distrust, camaraderie, pettiness, jealousy. Other examples of this kind of movie are John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Ridley Scott’s Alien, and while these movies are far superior to 10 Cloverfield Lane, they all share similar themes. It’s good company to be in. I recommend this one. It’s a worthwhile suspense thriller that will keep you thinking, and when it comes to that ending, hopefully you’ll enjoy it as I did.
A special mention here for Bear McCreary who is perhaps best known for scoring The Walking Dead. I found the score for this movie to be fantastic work, and shows a real evolution for him. Not that I’m any real expert on music, mind you!