10 Cloverfield Lane: A creepy survival drama from the JJ Abrams factory

In 2008 January, a found footage monster movie called Cloverfield was released following several months of multi-layered viral marketing. The film told the story of a group of friends who find themselves on the run through the streets of New York as it comes under attack from a giant (mostly unseen) creature. The back story built through the online marketing made the movie a geek’s wet dream and it made $170 million at the global box office. That doesn’t put it into blockbuster status, but it surely turned in a nice little profit on a production budget of just $25 million.

The film was produced by J.J. Abrams, who at that time was known as the guy who had produced the hit TV shows Alias and Lost. Eight years later, Mr. Abrams is a global entertainment powerhouse, the man who has restarted both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises and has taken over as producer of the Mission: Impossible films.

Meanwhile, the Cloverfield geek club had been clamoring for a sequel for several years. The Abrams club has been coy about it, indicating they’d love to do it, but only on their own terms and in their own time.

And then in February this year, when we least expected it, came the trailer to a movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane. It came from Abrams’ Bad Robot production house. Surely, this name couldn’t be a coincidence? Was this the much awaited sequel? How come it was produced in secret, completely the opposite of the high profile marketing campaign of the original?

The answer came from Abrams – this movie is not a sequel to Cloverfield. He called it a “spiritual successor” to the earlier film, but not existing in the same universe or timeline. Abrams likened the connection to that of multiple films which are part of an anthology series. The connecting thread is that both movies feature a large scale attack on a populated area and the story is told at the ‘ground level’ of how some ordinary people survive the attack.

There are basically just three characters in the film. A brave and resourceful young woman, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A young man, played by John Gallagher Jr. who is trying to do the right thing in unpredictable circumstances. And a man in his 60’s who may or may not be a delusional maniac, played to perfection by John Goodman. These three characters find themselves confined in a surprisingly cheery and well-equipped underground bunker. One wants to keep them all down there for good. One wants to escape. And one doesn’t know what and who to believe.

Unlike the wild camera movements which are characteristic of found-footage films like Cloverfield, the lighting and camera positioning in this film is very conventional, making it easy to focus on the characters and their surroundings.

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This is a genre film that feels like it’s a blend of genres – locked room mystery, character study, suspense thriller, all rolled into one. Towards the end, it rapidly shifts gear and becomes a conventional scifi film. I was reminded a bit of another multi-genre thriller that deconstructed itself rather cheekily, called The Cabin in the Woods. Coincidentally that film was directed by Drew Goddard, who wrote the screenplay for the first Cloverfield. Connections, connections.

Very interesting musical score by composer Bear McCreary, who used a full 90 piece orchestra, with some very strong cello sections, but most interestingly, layered on the sound of an experimental stringed/ percussion instrument from the 70’s, appropriately called a Blaster Beam (check out this article from Wired).

10 Cloverfield Lane is definitely worth the time, if you’re a fan of suspense thrillers. And I look forward to further entries in the Cloverfield anthology from the bad boys at Bad Robot Productions.

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