When the surprise announcement was made, that a ‘blood relative’ of Matt Reeves’s Cloverfield was coming in March, the buzz stemmed largely from industry insiders and fans of the handycam-monster meet-cute of 2008. But the announcement’s shock factor was sent into overdrive when JJ Abrams emerged as the producer and talent included John Goodman.
You might remember Abrams was pretty busy in the months leading up to the blockbuster of the decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens so it’s quite fitting that the mystery of 10 Cloverfield Lane lies in its very production. Even cast members Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. have said that they had no idea of the film’s title, and by association, origin’s until the trailer was launched in January.
But what I find fascinating is that I never clocked onto a shred of doubt regarding the integrity or quality of the film from onlookers, and this is before we even know anything about it: putting all our faith into the loose marketing ploy of insisting that 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a sequel but a ‘blood relative.’
What’s more, it may have been produced by Abrams, but it comes from first time feature film director Dan Trachtenberg. [The internet splits into two parties]
Those familiar with Trachtenberg’s stunning short fan film, Portal: No Escape inspired by Valve’s first person puzzle-based video game revelation, Portal.
…and those that were not. Check it out below if you belong to this category:
However, even the uninitiated Portal gamers can appreciate No Escape for the skill with which Trachtenberg handled the game’s lore and created an instant action heroin out of a tiny, spartan prison cell.
With that in mind what writers Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damian Chazelle (story and screenplay) have created is an unnervingly tense, layered, experiential thriller with Trachtenberg, and only Trachtenberg in mind.
Michelle (Winstead) rushes from bed to wardrobe to window to kitchen in a panicked, yet frighteningly purposeful, frenzy cramming things into boxes and bags. We get a series of fast cuts, wobbly close-ups of a doubtful face, and lonely material possessions including a diamond ring before we hit the road. Toiled with a complex hypocrisy of anger and guilt Michelle’s silent escape through the consuming darkness of the long road ahead is broken by a buzzing phone and a confused Hollywood voice-cameo.
It’s the start of romantic drama, a modern rehashing of Sleeping with the Enemy until the crash of surprise leaves us stunned at each twist and turn right up to the closing credit crawl.
Waking from a wearied slumber, open head wound making the sound of velcro as it tears itself from the blood stained pillow, Michelle makes a quick scan of her surroundings. The closed in white walls and leg brace aren’t enough to contain her palpable fear. Has she been kidnapped? for what purpose? by who? The early mysteries plant the seed and stifle your paranoia with all manner of possible horrors.
Clang! the heavy set door swings open as an equally heavy set figure thuds into the claustrophobic cell. But the friendly, caring demeanour only serves to push our nerves closer to the edge. This ‘carer’ is Howard (Goodman), a bolstered end-of-the-world survivalist chock full of enough contingency plans and conspiracy theories to keep screenwriters busy for decades.
But no amount of reassurance, that she is under the care of Howard until she recovers will satiate Michelle’s thirst for the truth and fresh air. Howard dutifully reveals all, well as much as he knows anyway. Michelle is in an underground bunker, sheltered from the ongoing disaster above ground. Whether it’s a nuclear/chemical attack, zombie apocalypse or extra-terrestrial invasion Howard has planned for them all and is prepared to protect his tenants for years on end if needs must.
Heck, it could take at least a year for toxic air to diffuse. But Michelle is sceptical and is already scouting her advantages and plotting her escape.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a close proximity puzzle involving shrewd wit, nerves of steel and creased fashion magazines. The allusion to Michelle’s situation is evident in the details. Tommy James and The Shondells eerily foreshadow the game of cat and mouse with lyrics such as ‘I think we’re alone now / there doesn’t seem to be anyone around / I think we’re alone now / the beating of our hearts is the only sound’.
The awkward family fun board game, purposeful to a point in its representation of the ongoing battle of wits between Michelle and Howard. The unfinished puzzle of the snorkling cat is more than just a humourous ploy to play upto John Gallagher Jr.’s comedic ice-breaker tone. Even the way each character interacts with the puzzle reveals little subtleties about their character. They do say a picture is worth a thousand words.
The way Michelle moves about the shelter is tentative and full of distrust. But the ease at which she dissects her surroundings reveals an efficient clued up mind, resourceful in a tight spot and frightfully observant.
Howard is delivered to perfection by Goodman. Rarely showing signs of huggable uncle in favour of over-bearing scare monger his character is difficult to breakdown. What are his motivations? Has there even been an attack and how emotionally stable is he? We catch glimpses of nervous twitches, an unstable temperament and mysterious brick-a-brack dotted around the bunker that both hint at and confuse his past.
The combination of resourcefulness and unpredicatbility brew a sublimely tense thriller that questions genre labels and throws a fresh light on a done to dead premise that secures a place amongst the elite of climactic endings.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a Must-see. Even if the film is not to your liking it’s worth getting to the cinema just to see your friends squirm, shield their eyes, and throw mini fist pumps right on through to the relieving credit roll.
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~ The real mystery? Where can I buy that board game? ~