It’s been a long time coming, but we finally have a sequel to the great 2008 found footage disaster movie, Cloverfield. Sort of.
Though never providing a completely clear answer with regards to the ties that bind 10 Cloverfield Lane with the original, J.J. Abrams and co. have drip-fed some details as to the provenance of the project. The film began as an unrelated screenplay called The Cellar by John Campbell and Matt Stuecken that did the rounds in Hollywood and had quite a buzz about it. It was only during production in 2014 however that the filmmakers started including references to Cloverfield, and it was only on 15 January 2016 when the surprise trailer hit cinemas that the rest of the world discovered we were getting a pseudo-sequel.
You could say that what we have here is an excellent enclosed-space thriller with some references to Cloverfield thrown in. And you wouldn’t be that far wrong. It’s clear that the nods to the 2008 feature – and there are indeed quite a few – could have been included late in the day, either through postproduction or reshoots, but at no point does this feel unnecessary.
Of course, it helps that The Cellar was indeed a great script to begin with. To give the vaguest of story outlines, the film concerns Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle, who finds herself in an underground bunker that’s been built by John Goodman’s Howard, a man who seems ever-so-slightly unhinged. He insists that they can’t leave. The two central performances here are played to perfection. Like Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery, the power dynamic is never short of electric, whilst the screenplay ensures that we’re constantly kept guessing as to Howard’s motivations. Michelle is incredibly resourceful, but her character feels like she’s earned the right to be. There are none of those “oh my God why is she doing that?!” moments that drive you nuts in traditional horror movies. The third principal player is John Gallagher Jr., who I was familiar with from ‘The Newsroom’ but here plays a completely different character to perfection.
In terms of screenwriting 101, this is really, really polished stuff. There are so many delicious payoffs that surprise because the set-ups were so cleverly woven into the story. There are no awkward Chekov gun-type situations, and the pacing is absolutely perfect. Dan Trachtenberg’s direction is wonderfully on point, and the cinematography is fantastic, often deliberately holding back from showing you what you want to see. Bear McCreary’s soundtrack echoes Bernard Herrmann, whilst the opening scene feels like it’s straight out of Psycho‘s first act. If you love your Hitchcock, then you’re bound to enjoy this too.
I do wonder if this film would be as good the second time around, but the main problem with this patchwork approach to filmmaking is that we all know it has Cloverfield in the title. I can only imagine that this robbed some of the mystery from the original screenplay. It makes me wonder if Abrams and co. considered keeping the links between the two films secret even up until release – has that ever been done?
10 Cloverfield Lane is the sequel I never knew I wanted. It’s a fantastic thriller that goes to show just how skilled Winstead is, and that she should be offered more than sequels to popular films (this is the fifth sequel, by my counting!)Rating: