Last week I wrote about Richard Linklater’s film Everybody Wants Some, his “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused. 10 Cloverfield Lane could very easily be described similarly alongside its 2007 predecessor, the found footage monster movie Cloverfield. But producer J.J. Abrams has instead taken to calling the film a “blood relative” of the original, which he also produced. Think of the two Cloverfields as feature length, big budget anthology entries in a show like The Twilight Zone, or The Outer Limits. Their connective tissue is a sci-fi milieu, and a rich atmosphere that envelops you in dread.
The film’s official synopsis is, “Monsters come in many forms.” That is a supremely superb and succinct sketch – an excellent example of the Shakespearean proverb, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” The set up to the film, directed by Dan Trachtenberg, is equally simple. A young woman named Michelle survives a car crash and wakes up in her rescuer’s underground fallout shelter. The man, named Howard, tells Michelle that some invading force has poisoned the air, and that it’s not safe to go above ground for a year or two. Michelle and Howard aren’t alone, though. An acquaintance of Howard, a young man named Emmett, saw that the older man was acting strange, and convinced Howard to let him into the shelter before sealing it.
The next hour and a half plays out as an incredibly tense chamber drama. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a masterclass in paranoia filmmaking. Even though Emmett believes everything Howard says about the danger above ground – the older man claims he saw atomic-like blasts – Emmett didn’t actually witness anything himself. Complicating matters, Howard proves to be unstable at best, kind and fatherly but capable of exploding into bouts of rage when contradicted. So, Michelle isn’t sure who to trust or what to believe. In addition to Howard’s erratic behavior, Michelle can’t be totally sure he didn’t run her off the road in the first place. She also awoke in the concrete bunker with her leg chained to the wall. That early scene is evocative of a movie like Saw, and it succeeds in producing the uneasy feeling that at any moment the movie could shift into torture porn.