‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ Review: A Delightfully Nutty Thriller

Paramount Pictures

What is 10 Cloverfield Lane? Besides being the address of John Goodman‘s farm in the movie, the secretive project has been described as a “blood relative” of 2008's Cloverfield, not a sequel. Its plot has been kept tightly under wraps with a mere five word synopsis – “Monsters come in many forms.” And its sneaky viral marketing campaign, from websites to a game to burying a military ammo can in New Orleans, have stoked the fires of Bad Robot fans and conspiracy theorists. So what exactly is it then?

10 Cloverfield Lane, an unrelenting thrill ride from start to finish, is best experienced by entering it knowing as little as possible. Throughout the feature debut from director Dan Trachtenberg, we know as little as Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle, who wakes up from a car crash inside the cell of a bunker. She meets Goodman’s Howard, a doomsday-prepper who built the shelter and claims to have rescued Michelle not only from the accident, but from the supposed fall out happening above ground. Whatever is actually happening up top remains as mysterious to us as it does to Michelle and John Gallagher Jr.’s Emmet, who fought to get in the bunker, but what’s happening inside becomes the alarming pulse of the film. Who is Howard? What’s his agenda? And the biggest question on everyone’s mind, what does Howard’s address have to do with Cloverfield, if anything?

The latter mystery remains largely unanswered, which may disappoint fans of the 2008 found footage movie expecting any semblance of a sequel or connection to 10 Cloverfield Lane. For one, Trachtenberg’s movie looks and feels nothing like Cloverfield, and feels wholly unrelated to the Matt Reeves film. The shaky handheld aesthetics the original is known for hardly appear here, replaced by tight close-ups and static shots that emphasize Michelle’s claustrophobia and imprisonment. Instead of the frantic chaos of monster mayhem, here the tension builds and erupts in small spurts as the presence of unknown evil becomes the film’s core. Every sound effect and subtle movement are amplified into jump scares that will jerk you out of your seat, building to a finale that is nothing short of totally and ridiculously nuts.

Though the events of 10 Cloverfield Lane and Cloverfield movies (likely) don’t take place in the same timeline, the main connection is how the film acknowledges it’s operating within the same atmosphere as its predecessor. It establishes this in the movie’s opening shot as the camera looks out of Michelle’s bedroom window onto a body of water. It’s a clear allusion to the last scene of Cloverfield that finds Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) camcorder catching a satellite fall into the Atlantic Ocean. This may simply be Trachtenberg trolling fans (or sneaking in clues I missed on first viewing), but it feels like an acknowledgment that even if the two films are largely different creatures, they both occur in a seemingly normal reality where sci-fi can creep it at any unsuspecting moment.

Despite its thrills, it’s apparent 10 Cloverfield Lane is the product of stitching together two separate ideas. (The film began as a standalone microbudget thriller titled The Cellar and it wasn’t until deep into post-production that the film was retooled into a companion piece to Cloverfield.) The final result is something that feels caught between two genres, at once attempting to be a dramatic thriller then switching gears as a crock pot of sci-fi nightmares. Yet its sheer over-the-top excess and lack of taking itself too seriously allow it to become a delightful, exhilarating concoction of its many pieces, and much more accessible and entertaining than the dizzying cinéma vérité of its parent movie.

The further 10 Cloverfield Lane gets from reality, the more exciting it gets. Its many preposterous, unexplained plot twists give it the makeup of a sci-fi B-movie, though one made with the precision of a suspenseful thriller. Here is a space that appears to have the terrors of the real world – a woman captured by a creepy man who seems a little too obsessed with his absent daughter – thrown into a vortex of boundless possibilities, many laughably silly. One reveal about Howard comes in a sudden DUN-DUN-DUNN moment typical of the J.J. Abrams mystery box, and later on, the introduction of a dangerous substance in the bunker is both shocking and playfully outrageous. 10 Cloverfield Lane feels like the result of brainstorming doomsday conspiracies after watching a double-feature of Room and Cloverfield. OK, you’re locked in a bunker by a stranger and the world might be ending, how batsh*t crazy can we make it?

The mere existence of something as wacky as 10 Cloverfield Lane is an accomplishment in itself. The Beyoncé album drop of movies, it’s incredible a film could be unveiled to the public as suddenly and secretively as this when its first trailer dropped less than two months ago. Whether that proves detrimental to audience reception, or whether hardcore Cloverfield fans will feel misled by the title remains to be seen. But the more you sit back and enjoy the nutty ride that 10 Cloverfield Lane is, the more fun you’ll have.

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