Cloverfield was an appealing, albeit slightly forgettable, found footage monster romp from 2008. Directed by Matt Reeves and produced by J.J. Abrams, it showcased Reeves’ talent for staging elaborate but coherent set pieces, and Abrams’ love of mystery box filmmaking and keeping audiences guessing.
10 Cloverfield Lane, on the other hand, is a small scale, mostly single-location thriller set in a doomsday bunker, produced, again, by J.J. Abrams, and directed by first timer, Dan Trachtenberg. So what’s the connection between the two films? Is this a sequel or a prequel or another story set in the same universe? Quite honestly, it’s probably better if we don’t tell you the answer to that question, as 10 Cloverfield Lane’s best moments have nothing to do with Cloverfield.
The elegant, almost Hitchcockian, premise has Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) waking up after a bad car accident in a small underground bunker. She’s occupying the space with her apparent jailer, Howard (John Goodman), and pleasant-seeming young man, Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.). Howard tells her that the world above has been rendered uninhabitable by an “attack” from forces unknown. Emmet confirms this, but Michelle is unsure what has truly happened and who to believe.
The next ninety or so minutes showcase mounting tension, solid character moments, and a pleasingly pacey story that belies the lack of location changes. All three actors are on the top of their respective games, with Goodman providing a particularly effective turn as the paranoid but fascinating Howard, and Winstead proving that she has genuine acting chops. The story culminates in what is an almost perfect ending…but then it keeps going. It’s like watching a wonderful Twilight Zone episode with a staggering conclusion dribble on for another interminable ten minutes of schlock. It’s a pity that such an unexpectedly effective thriller is so profoundly undone by a tonally disparate denouement. If, however, you can forgive its dud final note, there’s a lot of fun to be had with 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Dan Trachtenberg is clearly a director to watch, especially if given a project that isn’t part of a pre-existing property.