When Cloverfield was released back in 2008, hype played a huge part of the viewing experience. Marketed in a shroud of mystery – a rarity at a time when studios often release a good portion of a film’s footage, sometimes years before it comes out – so much time was spent trying to work out what it was about that the end result was almost inevitably going to disappoint.
Having recently rewatched the film for the first time since 2008, whilst its post-9/11 context still works, the majority of Cloverfield hasn’t aged very well at all. Firstly, it loses a great deal of its visceral, fairground-ride thrills when seen on a little screen; secondly, once you’ve been let in on the secret, you can’t help but think that it’s never quite as good as its fantastic marketing campaign, which I still remember much more vividly than I do the film itself.
Now, 10 Cloverfield Lane – a film that may or may not be connected to the original monster movie – runs the same risk of peaking too early. It has come from nowhere, made with the levels of secrecy that would do the CIA proud, by J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot production company. It feels like guerilla film-making, made all the more impressive by its blockbuster promise and the amount of talent involved in front of and behind the camera. So it’s easy to understand why people’s anticipation would be high.
I’m happy to report that 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t disappoint in the slightest and, from the offset, it’s apparent that this will have a longer shelf life than it’s rumoured predecessor. Gone is the found footage format of Cloverfield – a clever narrative tool at the time which has quickly become a gimmick since 2008 – in favour of a more conventional method of storytelling. Made on a budget of roughly five-million, a measly amount of money compared to the budgets of other summer blockbusters such as Batman V Superman, most of the action is contained to a couple of rooms.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is our plucky heroine, Michelle, who wakes up in an underground bunker after a car accident. The bunker belongs to John Goodman’s Howard, whose intentions for brining her to his bunker are ambiguous. He claims to have saved her life after finding her by the side of the road, but when Michelle asks Howard what he plans to do with her and he responds with “I’m going to keep you alive”, your mind is hardly put to rest by the uncomfortable undertones that linger in the atmosphere.
Whilst Michelle aims to escape, Howard and his fellow bunk-mate, Emmett – whose presence isn’t particular welcomed by Howard – are adamant that she’ll be killed almost instantly by the toxic atmosphere of the earth’s surface, which has just come under some kind of nuclear attack. Are they lying to her in a bid to keep her locked up, or is there a real threat outside of the bunker? Well, whilst I can’t tell you the outcome, I can tell you it’s a hell of a lot of fun in trying to work it all out.
Fun. It’s a lazy but apt definition of 10 Cloverfield Lane, a tremendous cinematic surprise which has already set the bar ridiculously high for all the summer blockbusters to follow. Whether it’s the performances – put simply, John Goodman is fucking amazing – or the feeling of classic Spielbergian storytelling that runs throughout it, it had me smiling from beginning to end.
When I wasn’t smiling, however, I was desperately trying to hide my face from the screen, or chew on the nearest thing to me out of the sheer tension that pulsates through the picture. Like the greatest of thrillers, 10 Cloverfield Lane slowly builds toward a heart-pounding finale of fire, confined ventilation shafts, and acid. It’s the type of finale which will make you jump out of your chair, the type of finale which will have you screaming at the screen in between almost biting your fingers off, before it suddenly takes a left turn which I’m sure will divide audiences – personally, I loved it.
So, in keeping with the secrecy, here’s what you need to know about the film in a nutshell. It’s an impressive piece of work, all the more so due to where it stands in the current age of blockbusters. It isn’t afraid to be different and focuses on the story more than special effects. It’s an edge-of-your-seat experience that deserves to be seen on the big screen, with as many people as possible. It’s well performed, well made and extremely entertaining. When it comes down to it, whatever connections it may have to Cloverfield (if any) don’t really matter at all. The fact that 10 Cloverfield Lane remains a mystery, even after its big reveals, is just as exciting as the prospect of future ‘Cloverfield‘ films.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com