I scarcely remember anything that happened in 2008’s “Cloverfield,” though I will never forget the nausea-inducing vertigo its constant shaky-cam gave me. I have a vague recollection of seeing the monster at the end (sorry if that spoiled something for anyone) and some kind of government cover-up of the whole thing. In other words, nothing had me clamoring for a sequel or offshoot.
Yet along comes “10 Cloverfield Lane,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg, written (to some extent) by “Whiplash” wunderkind Damien Chazelle and presumptively overseen by producer J.J. Abrams – and all of a sudden, they showed me that I did not know what I wanted. How refreshing to see a brand extension that serves as a brand revitalization. Rather than relying on the formula, mythology or beats of its predecessor, this bold new path in what now is supposedly a franchise delivers exactly what we need by giving us nothing we expected.
Most people remember “Cloverfield” chiefly for its marketing campaign. “10 Cloverfield Lane” arrived like Adele’s “25,” a teaser out of nowhere with the full product dropping shortly after. Ironically, the lead-up hardly presaged the experience. While the anticipation “Cloverfield” ultimately revealed thin substance, the somewhat muted hype machine surrounding “10 Cloverfield Lane” was only scratching the surface of the film’s tremendous impact. Trachtenberg’s film is like a master-class in suspense building, expertly and tautly edited to ratchet up the heat in every scene until it reaches a boiling point. In many ways, it could not be more different from “Cloverfield,” whose verité live video style relied on overwhelming the senses to communicate urgency and danger.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” bounces between multiple genres and styles: the captivity/escape thriller, the post-apocalyptic drama, and even family melodrama. Screenwriters Chazelle, Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken dole out scant details about what inspires Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle to pack up and drive east, but she ends up in a terrible wreck … and then in the bunker of John Goodman’s Howard. He helps nurse her back to health, sure, though there is always something suspicious about his motives. And his claim that the world has become contaminated to the point where they need to stay underground for 1-2 years? Sounds fishy.
Thankfully, Michelle is not alone; she also has company in John Gallagher Jr.’s Emmett, a rural Louisianan nursing his arm back to health. Even he, however, is not enough to bring a long-lasting sense of comfort in this new living environment. Emmett seems scared of Howard as well, but Michelle has to face an undercurrent of machismo and sexual violence emanating from both her bunkmates. (Obviously, this is more pronounced in Howard.) “10 Cloverfield Lane” provides, with rare subtlety, the kind of tale that celebrates the strength and tenacity women must muster in these trying situations just to survive.
Even with vagueness and mystery abounding, Michelle’s hard-fought battle feels personal and authentic on a gut level – no easy feat. The climactic section of the film had me on pins and needles, fully invested in seeing her through to triumph. And unlike the original “Cloverfield,” which mostly had me wanting answers, “10 Cloverfield Lane” had me begging for a return to security and safety so my heart rate could return to normal levels. Yes, at one point, I did check my Fitbit – that master class finale of tension creation had me physically affected and emotionally invested. A- /