– by David Morgan-Brown
Just over eight years ago, a teaser trailer for an unnamed film was released that set the world wide web on fire. What looked to be a disaster movie, along with an unseen monster roaring and stomping its way through New York City, caused great anticipation thanks to some of the best marketing for a film of the last decade. This film ended up being called Cloverfield and I thought it was a nice refreshing twist on the usual monster/disaster film by making it from a found footage perspective.
Now, the marketing team came back with a trailer released without warning, just two months before the film’s release, again generating hype. However, as I noted, the film didn’t really look like the original. The makers of 10 Cloverfield Lane have been keen to remind everyone that this isn’t a straight-up sequel, but more of a “spiritual successor”. This is a nicer way of saying this film has hardly much to do with the original film at all, in terms of style, storyline, characters, mood, tone, setting, and even genre. It’s like this film could’ve been released under a different name and nobody would’ve connected it to Cloverfield (though of course then it wouldn’t make as much moolah). Or it’s almost like they were making this non-Cloverfield film and then just decided half-way through production to relate it to Cloverfield, just ’cause.
As you tell from the trailers, this non found footage film takes place in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman) and his accomplice Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), along with the woman he saved/kidnapped, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). As the trailers suggest, there isn’t much of the monsters to be seen, only this trio confined to this one setting with nothing but intimidation to keep them there. There’s a fairly interesting ambiguity in Howard – it’s not too hard to guess he isn’t to be entirely trusted, but finding out exactly what is up his sleeve is enjoyable (yet a bit disturbing) to find out. Michelle isn’t sure what to make of him as she keeps switching sides, sometimes she sticks with him, only to grow suspicious and then begins to conspire against him.
Instead of being an on-the-move disaster flick like the original, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a much less expensive and more tightly knit sorta-sequel that is propelled by human tension rather than monster attacks. I greatly respect a franchise film going for a much different and perhaps less bankable genre than its predecessor, yet I also greatly disrespect a franchise film that is so different from the original that it feels like a cash-in on a known blockbuster. Ultimately, even though there are a handful of well plotted intense moments between the characters, this film can’t quite muster enough strength to pull off the thrills effectively. The first problem may be Winstead’s character, who is flatly written and can’t convey enough danger or exasperation at the horrible situation she’s been thrown into, making a lot of her earlier scenes limp. Another issue with her character is that she’s a little too lucky for her own good, as she more than once is able to MacGyver herself out of a sticky situation.
In case you are wondering, there are monsters in this film and you’ll have to wait til the last ten minutes to be thoroughly disappointed by their lacklustre inclusion. There’s only a few to make an appearance and the final showdown between our remaining protagonist and the monsters is immensely disappointing, pretty much the polar opposite conclusion to the appropriately ambiguous, yet likely pessimistic and even nihilistic ending of the original.
Overall, this disparate “sequel” is a decent film that, after a wobbly unimpressive start, somewhat gets into the dynamic of the three characters, eschewing a fair amount of human tension from them. But it can’t keep up the thrills for long enough to make this an exciting bottle film that relishes in cabin fever (The Hateful Eight did this far more successfully, and longer as well), nor is it any kind of film that could be called a worthy successor to Cloverfield. It’s an average horror-thriller with Cloverfield tagged to it, which is disappointing for someone like myself who genuinely wanted a proper expansion of the Cloverfield story.