I saw the 10 Cloverfield Lane trailer when it was on at the movies. I saw the DVD cover in Sainsbury’s checkout aisles when it wasn’t. And I knew the film had something to do with producer J.J. Abrams’ 2008 first-person monster blockbuster Cloverfield. But other than that, I deliberately avoided finding out any more, knowing that, one day, I’d get round to watching it. And that day, my friends, was yesterday, when I realised it had been added to Sky Cinema.
Unlike Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a frantic, found-footage, motion-sickness-inducing roller coaster ride. Still, it doesn’t waste any time getting going. And before you know it, lead character Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is white-knuckling her way through rural Louisiana like she’s caught in a Hitchcock movie. There’s a fiancé, Ben, that she’s running from, but Michelle only has eyes for the horizon. Until she’s run off the road and wakes up chained to a wall in a small room, with a mattress, an IV drip and a massive headache.
An intimidating-looking man with a gun, played by John Goodman, enters the room. Eventually, in the creepiest way possible, he explains that his name is Howard, there’s been some kind of nuclear or Martian attack and everyone outside the bunker they’re holed up in is dead. He says the fallout will take about two years to clear and that they have to stay underground ’til then. Howard, you see, has been stockpiling for the apocalypse and has built a puzzle, jukebox and ’80s lounge suite-filled bunker straight out of Blast from the Past – or Doomsday Preppers.
Howard and Michelle are joined by Emmett (John Gallagher), who says he snuck in as Howard was closing the door. It all sounds a bit fishy, and straight away, Howard’s intensity and Emmett’s aloofness set up a kind of Stephen King Misery atmosphere, with Goodman in the deranged Kathy Bates role. Yet, as creepy as Goodman plays it – and he does make a great creepy captor – the film’s Cloverfield connection also suggests Howard might not be lying. That his disturbing behaviour is, in fact, all a ruse, meant to convince you that he’s delusional and insane, until a massive amorphic Godzilla alien pops the lid off the bunker and inhales everyone whole.
10 Cloverfield Lane plays off this dynamic relentlessly. Back and forth. There are good times. Family dinners. Movie nights. Board games. And laughter. Then something happens and Michelle and Emmett are suddenly desperate to escape. Until they’re sucked right back in. It’s an incredibly clever way to make a sequel, if that’s what it is. In fact, essentially, 10 Cloverfield Lane is the complete opposite of Cloverfield. There are three actors, performing on a contained, stage-like set, and the thrills are subtle, psychological and nuanced.
In many ways, despite its blockbuster connection, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an old-fashioned low-key suspense film. Part Hitchcock, part Stephen King and part J.J. Abrams. And without giving it all away, I’ll just say that it’s definitely worth a watch. I was sucked right in and left guessing. Although I did have my suspicions early on. Interestingly, 10 Cloverfield Lane is based on a low-budget speculative screenplay written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken called The Cellar. Eventually, the story was rewritten by Whiplash director Damien Chazelle and went on to become what Abrams calls a Cloverfield “blood relative,” or “spiritual successor.”