Bad Robot in my eyes is simply the best at keeping things a secret. In this day and age to be able to surprise audiences is just about an impossible task. When the first Cloverfield trailer was released in 2007 in front of Transformers, it was a trailer that had us all guessing up until its release. In my opinion Cloverfield was one of the best found-footage films to come out, and was a grand achievement considering it was a monster film that had been pretty much been kept under wraps until its actual release. Bad Robot managed to surprise us again, releasing a trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane that set the internet on fire with theories and hopes for this to be a long-awaited sequel. But is that what this really is?
What I want to go ahead and get out of the way is, if you’re hoping for spoilers, there will be none, other than to say if you are expecting a big-budget extravaganza filled with monsters destroying cities, this is not that film. Don’t waste your money on the big IMAX presentation, because you will feel cheated. Instead, what 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers is something more intimate than I would have expected, and it takes the thriller genre back to its basics.
We are first introduced to Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she is in the process of leaving her fiancé; we don’t get to see the confrontation if there ever was one, but all we see is her packing her things and hitting the road. In the middle of the night she is in a horrible accident, and when she awakes she is chained and trapped inside the bunker. The tension is kicked in from this moment on and doesn’t relent. No flashy effects, but instead the simple plot device of sticking with the lead character and discovering things as Michelle discovers them is the key to this film.
Michelle’s rescuer is Howard (John Goodman), who from the moment he arrives on screen we are left to question for ourselves if he’s simply a good Samaritan or if there is something more sinister at play. I’ve always enjoyed seeing Goodman on screen, and he delivers the performance of his career here. The range of emotions we see from Goodman is like something I’ve never seen before, and it helps carry this film effortlessly. As he explains to Michelle about the outside world basically no longer existing and to prepare to stay down in the bunker for a year if not more, it’s enough to suck the life and hope out of anyone.
Sharing the bunker with Michelle and Howard is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who unlike Michelle forced his way into the safety of the bunker and has a suspicious injury to his arm. He’s an inconvenience to Howard, but he still does what he can to help the young man survive. Emmett is somewhat the weak link of the cast and is more or less used to help vocalize Michelle’s thoughts. The key point of conversation and in the viewers’ minds is of course the sanity of their host, Howard. Is he simply a conspiracy nut, or is the world beyond the bunker really dead?
The simplicity of the film is what works so well. It’s a scenario that can be believed by any member of the audience, and how stubborn our minds can be. When watching the film you can understand how this was a film that managed to sneak under the radar. While first time director Dan Trachtenberg deserves a nod of praise for his execution of this film, the real hero is Damien Chazelle and the two writers, Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, who created the project. Having seen Chazelle’s work on Whiplash and Grand Piano, I can’t help but feel it was his influence that gives this film the old school Hitchcockian feel. This is a brilliantly-crafted script that will put this film on the map for film geeks for years to come.
That being said, there is a large chunk of the film’s audience that is going to walk away from this film disappointed because of their expectations of this being a “true sequel” to Cloverfield. I see this film as a spiritual successor to the film, like how Halloween 3: Season of the Witch fits into its franchise. As a standalone film, 10 Cloverfield Lane holds up and is a pretty great thriller. It’s the kind of film that normally would simply have a run through the festival circuits and hopefully find an audience on DVD. This push from Bad Robot and Paramount is the kind of nudge that will hopefully show studios that audiences can and will go to the theaters to see a smaller film so long as the quality is there.