'10 Cloverfield Lane' review: Sheer tightness, claustrophobia work in film's favour

Mihir Fadnavis

Apr 30, 2016 14:55:57 IST

2008’s Cloverfield introduced a few things to modern pop culture, like JJ Abrams’ dedication to sci fi, the mystery box concept which keeps the twist or reveal of the film and even the production of the film tightly under wraps, and viral marketing that makes people interested in cryptic teasers foaming at their mouths trying to uncover the mystery. Cloverfield was a box office monster and fans predictably expected a sequel.

Somehow Abrams’ Bad Robot productions held back on making a sequel, until they dropped a little bomb back in February when a movie called 10 Cloverfield Lane was announced for release in two month’s time. The internet went nuts, thinking how Abrams pulled it off. In this day and age of social media how did they manage to make a sequel to one of the most talked about films of all time?

The answer becomes clear in the final 10 minutes of this movie. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane is neither a sequel nor a prequel — as Abrams himself says, it’s something of a blood relative of the original movie. If you would like to enjoy the film at its fullest capacity you’re better off not reading anything about the plot. In the film a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) gets embroiled in a car accident and wakes up chained to a pipe in a basement. Her kidnapper Howard (John Goodman) is an apparent psycho who claims he’s saved her life and going outside the house would kill her. What follows is a tense, nerve wracking exploration of Michelle trying to escape and discovering bizarre things.

What works is the sheer tightness and claustrophobia of the film. Trachtenberg, who has earlier made the excellent Portal: No Escape short film sure knows how to compose shots and build up dread. Setting the film entirely within a small farmhouse gives the filmmakers leeway to put the budget on the look and feel of the film, and it certainly works in the film’s favor. Winstead, Goodman and John Gallagher Jr who plays the third person holed up all turn in pretty believable performances — it’s a crucial plus point in a film that depends completely on just three people in a room.

But here’s the quagmire. Those unfamiliar with the first Cloverfield movie would go bonkers watching this movie, because they’d be completely in the dark regarding the big event in the original film. The strange happenings outside the house would totally confuse these viewers, making them wonder whether Howard is a psycho or actually telling the truth.

Those who have watched Cloverfield, on the other hand, would find the big reveal of the finale to be anti-climactic. They already know of the event, so the film trying to get them to believe the event didn’t happen is a cheat that doesn’t work.

The aforementioned final 10 minutes of the film is when 10 Cloverfield harks back to the previous movie, and the connective tissues seem raw. It feels like the finale belongs in another movie, and a cursory internet search reveals that it was written in at the last moment to cash in on the Cloverfield brand name.

Tying up this movie to the previous one thereby works against the film’s favour, and it makes you wish they simply released it as a standalone title. Even with the same reveal, and not having any connection to Cloverfield, the film would have become another jewel in Abrams’ mystery box. As of now it’s merely a good movie, instead of a great one with an amazing twist. On the bright side this is a wonderful demo for Trachtenberg’s filmmaking abilities. With a bigger budget and a better story one can expect some seriously good films from him in the future.

Updated Date: Apr 30, 2016 15:31:01 IST