When the first trailer for Cloverfield was released in early 2008 I remember the excitement being palpable. JJ Abrams had fostered a reputation with his television work on Alias and LOST as a man who could create hype like few can. Just his name, an ominous score, and the head of the Statue of Liberty slamming into a SoDo neighborhood was all that was needed to turn a relatively small (but inventive) found footage thriller into an international hit. Abrams didn’t even direct the film but the man can build buzz (see The Force Awakens.)
So in late January when a tiny trailer emerged online showing little else than a title: 10 Cloverfield Lane, the Abrams machine had done it again. Immediately breakdowns began, “how did we not know this was coming!?” The prospect of a “secret” film in this media age is almost unheard of so to see Abrams seemingly pull the wool over our eyes once again was exciting.
Gone is original Director Matt Reeves and in steps first-timer Dan Trachtenberg, who immediately presents himself as a filmmaker with an acumen beyond his small sample size. He uses the tiny scale and small budget to craft a film that is as tense and thrilling as Leo tripping over a bear carcass in the woods. It’s intensity is released in carefully timed scares that left the audience gasping with spatters of nervous laughter.
The fun of 10 Cloverfield Lane is slowly uncovering its secrets. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is leaving her life behind in New Orleans. We get little about her backstory but on her way out of town she is sideswiped and driven off the road. She awakes with a busted leg, chained to a pipe in an underground bunker.
The bunker belongs to Howard (John Goodman – as my pal Mike put it, the man is a national treasure.) Ol’ Howie claims he saved Michelle from an attack and has her chained up in the room for her own good. He says the air outside his fallout shelter is contaminated and they may not be able to leave for a year, maybe two.
That’s all I can provide in terms of story because the film is best consumed knowing very little. Its power and intensity lies in the twitchy ferocity of John Goodman’s performance and the disarming charm of Mary Elizabeth Winstead. John Gallagher Jr. provides a great amount of comic relief as the most unlucky third wheel ever.
10 Cloverfield Lane is only a distant cousin to its predecessor – using the name to build hype, which is ok. While the original is one of the better (if not the best) of the found footage genre this is a superior film in nearly every way. It’s a claustrophobic chamber piece that relies on our fear of the unknown and the stunning realization that our biggest threat may live right next door.