Released: March 2016
When is a sequel not a sequel? When it’s another ride in the same fairground, according to producer J. J. Abrams. This somewhat confusing metaphor seems pretty much incomprehensible until you watch 10 Cloverfield Lane, the sister fairground ride to 2008’s Cloverfield. Whereas Cloverfield was a found-footage monster film, 10 Cloverfield Lane starts as a tense psychological drama, before switching to a panicky thriller and then ends with another genre switch which lost a lot of fans. It’s nothing like Cloverfield in style, subject or characters, and yet it does make a kind of sense the film is taking place in the same world, possibly even at the same time, as Cloverfield.
The film starts with a woman driving. She’s running from an argument with her fiancé, when her car is rammed and she blacks out. Upon waking, she is chained in a basement. Her captor later releases her, explaining the world has been destroyed by persons and means unknown, and he has saved her life by rescuing her from the side of the road. She has been taken to his survivalist bunker, and Michelle must decide what is true and what isn’t, whether her captor means well or ill, if he believes his own story or not. There is someone else holed up there as well, Emmett, a local man who helped build the bunker and ran to it when things started to wrong on the surface. He doesn’t know exactly what was going on up there, but, initially at first, he trusts Howard, the saviour/kidnapper that it got bad enough to stay put underground.
As a viewer, you have no idea who to trust. Howard is creepy, that’s beyond doubt, but is creepy enough to condemn? Has anything at all happened on the surface, and if so, how severe is it? Could it be the monster we watched destroy New York in the original Cloverfield? The setting is claustrophobic, and every single line of dialogue is stretched to breaking point with possible meanings and secrets. A word game has never brought so much discomfort to a film before.
The cast are incredible, with John Goodman playing against type superbly. Every inch of me wants him to be jolly, loveable John Goodman again, but he insists on being this overbearing, shifty, unpleasant character. I think this works much better than if they had cast a classic Hollywood villain as Howard. The writers have made it easy on them though, as each character’s voice is clear and distinct. For a film that starts with a woman being kidnapped, it also avoids the many pitfalls of damsels in distress or terrified victims and Mary Elizabeth Winstead successfully portrays Michelle as having a core of iron.
I can’t go into what happens in the film without spoiling it. Every reveal is both a release of tension and the start of new, and while the ending is understandably divisive, I think it’s an excellent way of showing someone really taking control of their life. 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a relaxing film. It’s stressful, at times upsetting and always a puzzle. However, I think it is one of the best films of 2016, with a completely unique story and solidly 3D characters. And whenever your day isn’t going to well, you can always remember this and know at least you aren’t have as bad a day as poor Michelle.