Dan Trachtenberg pulls out all the stops with his first feature length film, creating a surprisingly tense, dramatic and solid 'spiritual successor' to 2008's Cloverfield. A definite must-see for March.
Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield was released eight years ago, a somewhat underrated film which did more in terms of ground-breaking than was given credit for at the time. Eight years later, when 10 Cloverfield Lane was announced, it was more the spark of curiosity as to whether it would act as a successor to Reeves’ 2008 venture, especially seeing as Abrams was its main producer once again, or if it was simply using the fame governed by their shared name to lure in curious audiences. Now having hit cinemas worldwide, the film never directly addresses the potential continuity and fans and critics alike are beginning to form their own theories and readings, many of which contradict each other. However, despite this controversy, one thing stands clear against the blur of confusion: 10 Cloverfield Lane is a film you must see, no matter whether you liked, or have even seen, the first Cloverfield.
We open with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), having left her fiancé after an argument, driving cross country only to be hit by a pick-up truck and knocked unconscious. An almost silent scene apart from its score, this is one of the most impressive scenes of the entire film. When she is eventually hit on the road, the influx of diegetic sound punctuates the moment and leaves us gasping, the first of several incredibly striking shocks.
Michelle wakes up in a basement, held captive by a somewhat questionable man named Howard (John Goodman), and soon learns there has been an unknown attack up in the real world that has left the outside air unsafe. Questions soon arise after the film’s third character, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), is introduced – who is telling the truth? Is Howard a threat or just an unconventional, lonely man? And is the bunker more unsafe than the seemingly deadened world outside?
The film does well to make such a confined area seem so alive and full of potential. For the majority of its 103-minute run time, we are confined along with Michelle, Emmett and Howard in their tiny bunker, held away from civilisation. With perhaps the exception of Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried (2010), it is doubtful there has been many recent productions which conveys such a wide sense of nauseating claustrophobia, yet it is the chance of escape; our escape, as well as Michelle’s, which drives that sense further. It is a case of unbearable hope which plunges an engagement, a focused submersiveness, unseen in many films of recent months.
The shaky-cam style of the ‘first’ Cloverfield has disappeared, replaced instead with an impressive assortment of cinematographic techniques, angles and frames. Director Dan Trachtenberg manipulates the sense of fear and confusion through his actually quite distinctive style, especially impressive considering the film counts as his first feature. Literally ‘keeping us in the dark’ at points, the jump-scares and shocks (in their multitude) don’t appear garish or unnecessary and instead return to their origins; helping the plot instead of hindering it, whilst still jolting you up in your seat.
As more secrets are uncovered, and the inevitable darkness of Howard’s past slowly get revealed, it becomes a chase between the forceful and the unwilling; a simplistic concept but carried out to near perfection. The pace steadily, confidently accelerates almost to the point where the tension remains at its highest for a near full twenty minutes. Indeed, it would be an understatement to say you can’t look away – it’s a feat to remind yourself to even blink at a healthy rate.
Although there are no real massive, city-devouring monsters, the mix of both the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ plays to just the right amount of tension, and integrates itself into the world so finely that nothing it draws into its plot seems at all nonsensical. Even the ending, which should seem silly, manages to somehow seem plausible. How Trachtenberg has achieved that is, I’m unashamed to say, beyond me.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a strange case. Unheard of as recently as the start of 2016, and with publicity minimal, it seems to almost want to divert attention away from itself. With a sequel talked about, rumoured and subsequently shut down since the release of Cloverfield, people simply stopped asking. Even the screen I saw it in on its opening night was nearly empty apart from myself and four others. But with an extremely positive reception from both audiences and critics, and with a kind of Hitchcockian vibe to it, the film has clearly outdone itself and had a more thunderous impact than expected. And although the majority of audiences probably attended because of the film’s referential name, the majority of that majority came about with heavy breaths and hearts pounding, eagerly pounding the person next to them with feverous glances of excitement.
Although the strength of the link between the ‘first’ Cloverfield and this is debatable, as a fan of the first there is no doubt that this is on par with it. I doubt it will have as much of a long term impact, having been released in a swarm of other, bigger films like this month’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, next month’s Captain America: Civil War and last month’s Deadpool, but for now it remains somewhat unexpectedly victorious, and justly so.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), directed by Dan Trachtenberg, is distributed in the UK by Paramount Pictures. Certificate 12A.