Originally developed as a completely separate movie, shot in secrecy and later rebranded with the imprimatur of the sleeper 2008 success Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane emerges this weekend as that rare kind of “surprise” in today’s movie universe and is all the better for it. Although I suppose it is a spiritual successor to the 2008 film, this one — with much of that creative team, most notably producer J.J. Abrams, relegated to producing status — is a totally different creature to be sure. Gone is the tired found footage and shaky camera gimmicks of Cloverfield, replaced instead with the hallmarks of an old-fashioned suspense thriller that has much more in common with Alfred Hitchcock than most of its contemporaries.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch) take a pot and mix in elements of Psycho, Misery, War of the Worlds, Room, Saw, Signs and especially any great Twilight Zone episode, and you have the cinematic stew that debuting feature director Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriters Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle have cooked up. In fact, Hitchcock should sue for the blatant Psycho ripoff of the film’s opening sequence (and Saul Bass-inspired titles and end credits), where we see a young woman, Michelle (a fine Mary Elizabeth Winstead), driving late at night down a deserted highway when she suddenly is involved in some sort of accident. Next thing you know, she is shackled and alone in an underground bunker and confronted by the mysterious Howard (John Goodman), who has brought her there. But for what purpose? We aren’t sure, and that’s the balancing act of this film as we learn Howard has created this comfortable living arrangement way beneath the surface apparently to survive some sort of otherworldly attack that has taken place — whether it be nuclear, aliens or chemical.
It’s not clear, and we — thanks to Goodman’s tricky performance — don’t really know if Howard is truly a psychopath, conspiracy theorist or dedicated survivalist. Soon Michelle learns she isn’t the only one he has collected as Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) is also down there. He’s an affable neighbor who says he came of his own accord. But did he? For most of its running time, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a three-person chamber drama that could be a stage play. It is talky, psychological and consistently engrossing, but for a movie set way beneath the earth, it rarely scratches the surface and seems more content to play with our expectations of the genre. Of course, with our built-in knowledge of the monsters in Cloverfield, most will expect at some point the special effects team is going to be brought in and a more conventional sci fi experience will emerge. No spoilers here.
It would be critical malpractice to say anything else about a smart thriller that emulates the master Hitchcock in the best way he always did. He never showed his hand. Although 10 Cloverfield Lane is shot full of holes when you think about it, it is best not to think about it, read about it or talk about it. Just enjoy it . I did. And much of that credit goes to Trachtenberg for his tight direction and the three actors who make a great ensemble that sets this apart from processed expectations we bring to the theater. This is defiantly not a sequel except in the marketing sense, but Paramount Pictures,, which releases it today, has turned those rules on their head.
Do you plan to see 10 Cloverfield Lane? Let us know what you think.