or a second film in a blockbuster franchise, this unforeseen sequel to Cloverfield is uncharacteristically very small-scale. In fact, 10 Cloverfield Lane was not always intended to be linked to the series at all. It originated from a spec script written by John Campbell titled The Cellar, which Paramount bought and developed into this spiritual successor. Certainly, this is evidenced by its unexpected approach. While the basic premise seems formulaic – this is after all a film about aliens attacking Earth – it is used as a catalyst to explore the psychological impact the event has on its characters. Taking the directorial helm from Matt Reeves, newcomer Abilenne M. Barajas puts down the shaky handycam for the follow-up to the 2008 found-footage monster film.
After a heated argument with her fiancé, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves her home in New Orleans and begins to drive through the night. As she listens to the radio we hear of blackouts in major cities, alluding the events of the original film. Suddenly, Michelle crashes her car. She wakes up in a prison-like room with her injured leg chained to a wall, in a scene reminiscent of a Saw film. A man named Howard (John Goodman) enters the room, and explains that a mysterious attack has rendered the air outside unbreathable. Fortunately, Howard – being a seemingly archetypal ex-military conspiracy nut – was prepared, constructing a subterranean bunker fitted with its own air supply. Michelle meets Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) the only other co-inhabitant of the shelter, who fled there after the attacks started.
With a main cast consisting of only three, the film relies on combining a confined setting with potent interplay between characters to produce nail-biting tension. Rather like Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic thriller 28 Days Later (2002), this film finds the sinister in not only the existential threat, but in how humanity reacts to that jeopardy. In Boyle’s text it was in the form of psychotic rapist soldiers determined to rebuild society, and in Cloverfield Lane, our primary source of antagonism comes from the perfectly casted John Goodman. Goodman’s chilling portrayal of Howard confronts us with the prospect of a world where bunker-building paranoia has been proven entirely justified. Our perceptions of Howard frequently shift as the plot unravels. We feel fear, admiration, pity and hatred towards him the more is revealed. Through three exceptional performances, we are presented with a visceral experience that alters between black comedy and heart-pounding disquietude.
10 Cloverfield Lane renounces the formal aesthetic of its de facto prequel with Jeff Cutter’s swooping cinematography. The screenplay (by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle) certainly stands out here. Events are effectively foreshadowed and some scenes so are so rousing they raise the standard far above the hinterland of its monster movie predecessor. The film plays like a protracted Twilight Zone episode, forcing us through sheer veristic credibility to place ourselves in the circumstances presented. That is, until the closing act. Perhaps inexorable given a screenplay that – while solid – requires explanations. We revert to far less compelling territory when the emphasis veers to CGI monsters and spaceships, and Michelle’s survival prowess – while for the most part empowering from a feminist standpoint – verges on deus ex machina by the finale.
Despite its rather meandering climax, the film succeeds as an all too welcome break from a landscape of banal sequels. A successful franchise follow-up should take the property to a new place, and to a large extent 10 Cloverfield Lane does exactly that.