Initially, I had no intention of seeing this, given that I’m very allergic to marketing pranks. As should be widely known by now, “10 Cloverfield Lane” originally had nothing to do with “Cloverfield”. Is was neither a sequel nor a “blood relative”, as J.J. Abrams put it, but rather a standalone movie called “Valencia” (and before that, “The Cellar”). But when it was finished, the production company collapsed, and parent company Paramount didn’t really know what to do with and/or how to market it. So they did some reshoots and gave it the title “10 Cloverfield Lane” to retroactively tie it to Matt Reeves’ surprise hit of 2008. Usually, I don’t support stunts like that, but then I figured that I probably shouldn’t punish Dan Trachtenberg and his team for the impudence of the marketing people, and gave it a try anyway.
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My verdict: It’s good, but not great, and overall, I think I might have liked it a little more as a standalone-feature than the Cloverfield-blood-infused version that we ultimately got. The original script (if the internet is to be trusted) also wasn’t perfect (I think I would have groaned at the revelation of a destroyed Chicago at the end, and thus a cheap “OMG OMG the crazy, creepy conspiracy dude was right after all!”-twist ending; in the finished movie, we at least get a warning that he probably isn’t quite as full of shit as we’re inclined to believe, thanks to the dying woman outside), but not only would Emmett’s presence in the bunker have made more sense (in the script, it was her who let him in), the tonal shift also wouldn’t have been quite as jarring. Seriously, after a tense, tight thriller, this suddenly turned into “War of the Worlds” (Spielberg Edition), and when Michelle spotted the alien ship on the horizon and uttered an annoyed-unbelieving “Come on…”, I couldn’t have agreed more. That entire ending felt really tacked on, like it belonged to a different movie, and I for one had a hard time with this transition. I also had the impression that due to rewrites/reshoots, Howard’s description of what actually happened outside was a little inconsistent over the course of the movie. First he’s talking about a nuclear strike and fallout, seemingly blaming the russians or a similar (earthly) power, and only later, when Michelle hears the “helicopter”, he suddenly starts mentioning aliens.
Also: Why doesn’t he tell her what’s going on right away? Why does he, at first, chain her to the wall? Wouldn’t he have a much better chance to gain her trust and of her staying with him willingly, if he would have told his story right away (including the fact that it was him who ran into her)? I’m also not a huge fan of the recent trend that every single piece of information that we get has to have some sort of payoff later on. Like, for example, when Michelle tells Emmett how her brother always protected her, and later on him doing exactly the same thing. Or her story about always running away when things get difficult, which ties in directly to her decision at the end. What happened to insignificant background information that’s simply there to deepen the characters? I also could have done without Howard getting up again after the acid attack. And given the fact that – not just because of the new title – I just knew that Howard would be right about something going on out there, the first third of the movie (until Michelle finally reaches the same conclusion) lost a little bit of its appeal to me. Finally, many of the twists (the woman outside, the aliens at the end, and especially the so-not-shocking “I forgive you”-moment; that is just such a cliché by now) unfortunately didn’t really work for me.
Despite all that, I still had a pretty good time with the movie. Even though the twist concerning the fact that the crazy guy is actually right was very obvious, I quite liked that concept. There are a couple of incredibly tense scenes, like their first dinner together. My favorite part of the movie, though, was the middle, from Michelle seeing the dying woman outside up to “I forgive you”, which featured a lot of incredible tense scenes, and a couple of nice twists and revelations (like “Help” and the earring). Dan Trachtenberg definitely knows how to create tension, and I’m very interested to see what he’ll do next. He’s helped by a very good, moody score by Bear McCreary, and especially, of course, a bunch of incredibly talented actors. While I personally wasn’t that impressed by John Gallagher Jr., both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman pretty much blew me away. Goodman gives an absolutely incredibly and extremely intense performance, switching between fatherly caretaker, sleazy bastard and hot-tempered menace with astonishing ease. Winstead, on the other hand, perfectly manages the tricky combination of being vulnerable and frightened, but also independent, clever and strong. Her performance, as well as the way her character is written, made it easy for me to root for her, which made her fight for freedom very gripping – and the finale, despite the tonal shift, quite satisfying. Being forced to compared the two, thanks to the marketing department, I still slightly prefer “Cloverfield”, but “10 Cloverfield Lane” definitely is a worthy spiritual successor to 2008’s surprise hit that is very well worth watching.