This film has been called “the secret movie” because its trailer was released just two months before the film opened. It seems that the film was being produced under Paramount Studio’s “Insurge” division, but recently Paramount swallowed up Insurge along with its employees, and the last film yet to be produced was 10 Cloverfield Lane – which was produced under its code name, Valencia. The real name of the film wasn’t released until January 15, 2016, and even the actors were not aware of what the title would be. Filming had been long over, completed in December of 2014.
So, why the secrecy? The film is director Dan Trachtenberg’s feature debut, but it was marketed through producer J.J. Abrams. Bad Robot – Abrams’ production company – kickstarted the film and created a heavy social media push. It wasn’t until Abrams had time, after the completion of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to get involved that the film took shape and got its title. The film is based on a script called The Cellar, reworked into a film “…of the same DNA as Cloverfield,” according to Abrams. He continues to assert that 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a sequel but a “blood relative” to the 2008 film, one that visits the same type of world.
Although a great marketing strategy, the film is nothing like Cloverfield. It is not shot in the same found footage form, nor does it relate in any way unless you can say all films about alien invasion are connected. I supposed Men in Black could be called Men in Cloverfield. The more I look into the film, the more it seems director Trachtenberg was just a stand in for Abrams, who re-visited the film a year after filming took place and gave it an entirely different tone.
Filming took place in Louisiana using one set, and shot in chronological order with the three main actors. That seems pretty simple, right? The story goes that Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is in a terrible accident and is “rescued” by presumed nut job Howard (miraculously played by John Goodman) and brought to his fall-out shelter. Howard has brought her along for the end-of-the-world ride with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a construction worker that Howard begrudgingly let into the shelter once the world starts falling to shit. For Michelle, this story is about finding out who the real bad guy is – when she woke up chained to a pipe in an underground fall-out shelter, this was not how she imagined her day would be. And without her cellphone (destroyed) as a guide, she just doesn’t know whom to trust.
The very first thing to notice at the opening of the film is the incredible music. Complex orchestral music plays over muted sounds of the Michelle as she frantically packs – which is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Composer Bear McCreary, whose name you might recognize from The Walking Dead, produced the music for the film. He has said the film was contained and physically intimate, so he began working on an acoustic soundtrack with a few instruments until Abrams came and fed him the full picture. After that instruction, McCreary combined the raw, intimate, claustrophobic and darker sound with a bigger orchestral palette, once he learned that the film was connected to Cloverfield. The score draws from 1960s suspense films and 1970s sci-fi thrillers like the aforementioned Hitchcock film, Planet of the Apes, and Alien. The early 1960s is also when American citizens began to build shelters to protect them from the Cold War and it’s nuclear threat.
Before the action even starts the music begins to sink in. The first voice we hear is that of Bradley Cooper, portraying the voice of Michelle’s boyfriend Ben, who is frantically on the phone because Michelle just did all that packing to leave the poor guy. Michelle still doesn’t speak as she drives away, goes to a gas station, listens to the radio warning of power surges, and even as her car crashes. It’s a fantastic wreck with shattered glass flying as the car spins, and abrupt staccato breaks reading “Paramount”, “Bad Robot Productions”, and Cloverfield (in the style of the 2008 film) which quickly gains the words “10” and “Lane”.
The tone is set in the first scene, as Michelle is chained up in the locked room in the shelter, and Howard comes to tell her he rescued her from the end of humanity. Why you chain up someone you rescued is beyond me –and Michelle as well, apparently – because she employs some pretty kick-ass ideas to get out of there. From sharpening a crutch as a weapon to using an IV hanger for a hook, Michelle is one awesome female character, though the Winstead character could not overshadow the performance from Goodman, who did an amazing job. I think this was the best performance I’ve ever seen from him, he is perfectly crazy and is always on edge, and out of breath. His nervousness is palpable throughout the story, and his rage boils into the audience just as menacing as it does with Emmett and Michelle.
I rather enjoyed that there was plenty of comic relief that move the very cramped storyline along. The common area is adorable, with fun decorations and board games. There is montage of life in the shelter, making it seem like it will all work out, as Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” plays over it. This really gives a refreshing quality to the tone of the film. I also appreciated that the fear isn’t cheesy, it’s a real and terrifying idea to be locked in a shelter with a guy who is barely sane, and unpredictable.
10 Cloverfield Lane definitely makes a statement about the neurotic types that will probably survive in disaster situations. Emmett seems just like a country bumpkin who was stupid enough to believe the threats of the survivalist psychos, and Michelle was entirely oblivious to the imminent doom because she’s an educated, middle class city girl – you highbrow folk better start reading up on Aquaponics. Although at times the music seems too big for the film – as if its taking up all the space in the bunker along with Howard’s crazy apocalyptic fretting – as the film evolves, and takes on an entirely new form, the music has room to stretch and run. Plus the film itself gradually fills its own shoes, and finds its way. The end screams for a sequel to me, but unfortunately I don’t know if it will happen.