I remember going into Cloverfield (2008) with knowing little to nothing about it or who J.J. Abrams was or who he would become as a filmmaker/producer. I recall really being engaged and surprisingly tense during most of its runtime. Until it's end, that is. I felt like I had been robbed and that the unknown of the film was given away in its fullness by showing the full monster in all of its CGI glory. Up to the last ten minutes or so, we only saw flashes of something move in between buildings and crazy spider monsters falling down off of something that was rampaging the city. By the end, I felt like I had just seen another version of Godzilla, having lost all of its mystery. I still appreciated most of the film, but that ending felt cheap to me.
After I heard about 10 Cloverfield Lane, I decided to re-watch Cloverfield to see if that ending still struck me the same way as it did eight years prior. I was surprised to find that this narrative I had remembered and told myself over and over again in those eight years, well, it was wrong. The creature was shown nearly in full CGI glory far before the end. Apparently, those earlier showcases hadn't affected me the way those final scenes did. I don't know why and I wouldn't even know how to dissect the reasoning behind it. All of that being said, I still liked the majority of the movie. The ending still feels like a let down, but maybe not quite as heavy as it seemed at the time.
I then saw two subsequent interviews after re-watching Cloverfield with J.J. Abrams (who produced both films) and the star of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and both talked about the connections between the two films. Abrams called it a "spiritual successor" to the first film. I found this description to be one of two potential things: 1) incredibly pretentious (if it didn't turn out to be true) or 2) strangely appealing (if it turned out to be true). Since those interviews I have seen the film twice and, while I think I get why Abrams used that terminology, I think it might actually be a little more than just spiritual in its succession.
For one, it's the better film. This is fairly humorous because the endings of both films are actually similar in what the directors decide to reveal to the audience. Yet 10 Cloverfield Lane feels natural and necessary to the character arc of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) whereas the reveal in the first film feels gratuitous; not adding anything significant to the narrative drive or character development in the film. This film betrays the cinematic expanse of the New York City skylines and urban sprawl for an underground bunker in rural Louisiana. Where people are everywhere and constantly being crushed, stomped and tossed about in Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane seeks to zoom in on a specific microcosm of humanity, 3 people. Most of its runtime concerns the psychological politics involved in trust and dependence on complete strangers for survival. The audience is not given backstory to any of the characters, only what people can cull from their actions within the scope of the film. Each character is complex, likable...and potentially hiding something from the others and the audience. Especially Howard, played by the terrific John Goodman.
Don't go into 10 Cloverfield Lane expecting the non-stop action of its predecessor, because you will be disappointed. This film moves more like a one-setting, one-act play with three characters figuring each other out. When the violence and action does happen, it is brutal and stark and disruptive. It feels cosmic within a closed-circuit narrative. When one of the characters finally leaves the bunker, what is revealed feels like a veil being torn, a blindfold being loosed. Each character shown in their infinite complexities. Howard who oscillates through the film between utter paranoia and being strangely believable in his prophetic rants. By the end of the film, we come to realize that people can be both right in their paranoia and evil in their response to it. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
And that is the horror of 10 Cloverfield Lane, "Monsters come in many forms" as the film's tagline declares.
The end of the film may seem to some to be out of left field, but it actually works on two levels. The first level, simply put, is finding a way to work the story into the same universe as the first film ultimately turning these two and any subsequent Cloverfield films into film-length versions of anthology horror tales. All the stories told in this series of films will be told within the realm of this cosmic invasion of the other.
On the second level, it works as a way to give Michelle a completed character arc, one of the more satisfying character arcs I have seen in quite a while. As Adam Kempenaar talked about in his review of the film on last week's Filmspotting podcast, we see Michelle move from someone who sees conflict and runs away from it every time, never confronting it, to someone who--through the gauntlet of this small thriller of a film and the two central moments of sacrifice that take place in her life--becomes strong and willing to confront the problems she faces in all of their forms. Someone, who at the crossroads (literally), becomes someone who chooses to stand before and fight against evil rather than to flee from it. Once again almost driving home a cosmic presence that sought to prepare her for a much bigger battle to come. Dan Trachtenberg, the director, does great service to the film's narrative by pushing all of his chips forward and totally buying into to this ending. And it pays off in spades. Very seldom have I been this excited for the next installment of a film series.
And, if all of this isn't reason enough to go see this film, then let me tell you the major reason to go check it out, it is a hell of a ride and entertaining in every way a good blockbuster should be.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Starring John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher, Jr.
Runtime: 103 minutes