A genre of film beloved by some and apathetically shrugged at by others. Since society’s introduction to the world of found footage thanks to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, filmmakers have somewhat consistently dipped their toes into it as time has gone by, resulting in successes like the Paranormal Activity franchise and bombs like the pointless Area 51.
In early 2008, the genre was given an interesting new entry in Cloverfield, a unique specimen with a fairly straightforward concept-a house party in New York City is interrupted when the city plunges into chaos following an attack by a monster of unknown origin. The film followed a small group of partygoers, one of whom is armed with a video camera and relentlessly documents the action as it unfolds, as they attempt to escape the escalating destruction and simultaneously pull of a daring rescue. Seen from the point-of-view of said camera, Cloverfield is, essentially, a far less expensive Godzilla.
And yet, Cloverfield still managed to become a hit, thanks largely to an outstanding advertising campaign in the months leading up to the film’s release. An unexpected teaser trailer showing the aftermath of said house party and the severed head of the Statue of Liberty served as both an announcement that Cloverfield existed, even though it didn’t always go by Cloverfield (I believe at one point it was even referred to as Monstrous), as well as a kickoff to a variety of mysterious promotions that kept the premise enigmatic while raising interest in the film. Understandably, when you have enigmatic filmmaker/marketing whiz J.J. Abrams working behind the scenes as producer, Cloverfield raised vast amounts of speculation as to what was going on with this film and eventually led to box office triumph, in addition to a cult following that almost immediately began wondering if a Cloverfield 2 loomed on the horizon.
Much to everyone’s astonishment, in January of 2016 a trailer bearing the title 10 Cloverfield Lane hit the internet. Again produced by Abrams, this brief clip was a surprise indeed-another instance of a secret project now revealed while still maintaining an air of mystery all the way up to the film’s release. Much like the found footage predecessor which shares part of its name, this brief look at 10 Cloverfield Lane launched another unusual round of publicity that served to raise another slew of intriguing questions:
What was this?
Was it a sequel?
An unrelated film that just so happens to have Cloverfield in the title?
Seriously, WHAT WAS THIS?
Well…if you’ve seen that initial trailer, you can probably piece together the basics of the plot. As reticent as I am to divulge much of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s premise-and what follows-I can say that the film’s setup revolves around a woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who, following a car accident that renders her both unconscious as well as injured, is rescued by Howard (John Goodman), a bizarre, perplexing older man who has taken her to the custom-built underground bunker he shares with another man named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.). Not much is known about why they're down there, other than that, according to Howard, a devastating cataclysm has occurred above ground that has decimated most, if not all, of the world's population. What follows is roughly an hour and a half of Michelle trying to hatch a viable escape plan, as well as determine whether Howard is in fact telling the truth about their situation.
Oh, and before I go on, I should point out one of the aspects of 10 Cloverfield Lane in its conventional style of filmmaking-this is truly just a straightforward multi-camera Hollywood production. No found footage here.
What’s that, you ask?
No found footage, you say?
But, how is it connected it Cloverfield?
Tell me, I beg of you, tell me!
That is where I shall stop with any further plot-specific information, as going into 10 Cloverfield Lane with as little information as possible is completely how one should experience this movie. Director Dan Trachtenberg, who in 2011 directed a stunning short film based on the hit video game Portal, has created an incredibly claustrophobic, paranoid atmosphere within the concrete walls of Howard's shelter that draws the audience in almost immediately, loaded with plenty of well-executed jump scares and excellent cinematography that makes great use of tight quarters. The three leads deserve, in my opinion, every positive piece of recognition they receive in the wake of 10 Cloverfield Lane's release, in particular Winstead and Goodman. I don't know that I've witnessed a John Goodman performance I didn't love, and I've been eagerly awaiting another meaty role for Mary Elizabeth Winstead since her still-memorable take on Ramona Flowers in 2010's classic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Both deliver unbelievably compelling performances that serve the story-and its psychologically thrilling environment-very well.
However, there is a moment in this film that will divide audiences. In the spirit of no spoilers, I won't even hint at what that might be, other than that the jury is out as to whether it worked for this film or if it was best left on the cutting room floor. Again, seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane with a clean slate is the way to go. Furthermore, seeing it in theaters amplifies the experience a thousand fold-every creak, sound, and edge-of-your-seat jolt are made all the more intense on the big screen. Walking out of AMC Mayfair on the afternoon of Saturday, March 12, 2016, I felt an odd sense of exhaustion-rarely does a film immerse one's senses the way this one did.
10 Cloverfield Lane has both the look and feel of a prototypical episode of The Twilight Zone, which is never a bad thing. J.J. Abrams has, once again, used his Mystery Box way of hyping his films to considerable advantage, while simultaneously taking a memorable found footage classic and following it up with something quite different. Connections to the original film are undeniably present, and in the spirit of 10 Cloverfield Lane being labeled a, "blood relative" and/or, "spiritual successor" to Cloverfield, Abrams fanatics will have a blast scouring each and every scene for the Easter Eggs one would expect in a film of this pedigree.
It doesn't matter if it's found footage or not. 10 Cloverfield Lane stands on its own feet as an interesting, enjoyable film, and I for one am glad it found us.