I visited "10 Cloverfield Lane", knowing full well from what I'd read that it wasn't a direct, obvious sequel to Matt Reeves' giant-monster "found footage" hit. However, like that film, this one was also produced by J.J. Abrams, and based on what he's conveyed, a series of seemingly unrelated films could emerge, which will later connect like a puzzle to complete a vast, coherent tapestry.
This claim, in itself, implies that first-time director Dan Trachtenberg's effort is disjointed in context, and it is, which for the sake of originality is good, but for those desiring a precise, now-we-how-and-why explanation regarding the Cloverfield Monster, well, it ain't gonna happen, despite the title's insinuation. At the same time, the film offers further (if not solely implied) food-for-thought on the creature's origin.
While "Cloverfield" set the action on many planes, "10 Cloverfield Lane", thanks to Daniel Casey and Drew Goddard's script, is a claustrophobic installment, which for a time plays like John Fowles' "The Collector"; George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" and Rod Serling's "The Shelter". It also smacks of Richard Matheson's "Dying Room Only", with a prolonged, ominous tease, but does the bait land a tasty catch?
The bait is as follows: during a major power outage, a young lady named Michelle (imagi-movie veteran, Mary Ellis Winstead) gets into a auto accident. She awakes in a farmhouse (i.e., a bunker within such) where two men, Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), reside. She's informed by Howard that she's being contained for her own good, that to taste the forbidden fruit of escape is unwise, for something now taints the outside, but what exactly is it?
Well, I don't think I'm spoiling much by saying that it's...well, hard to say. It might be a poisoned atmosphere, mutating humans, militant extraterrestrials, or all of the above. One thing is for certain: inside the tension-wrought confines, Howard seems to know what's brewing, but is it through intuition or the roundabout implications of his survivalist know-how? Also, his petulant, enigmatic presence makes one consider the notion that monsters can rise from out the human condition, making this weird tale more "Psycho" than "Godzilla". (Bear McCreary's excellent score also helps drives the atmosphere in that direction.)
According to legend, "Cloverfield Lane" began as a project entitled "The Cellar", with characters hiding from the effects of nuclear fallout. On this basis, it's easy to deduct that the concept was merely recycled into what now stands as a wannabe "Cloverfield" companion piece, but without knowing the intended scope of possible upcoming entries, who can say how this chapter might be viewed in the long run, or even how it should be taken presently?
In the end, it feels more like a prequel to the 2008 film than a sequel, but if these films are linked (or are to link, as Abrams says), then damn it, let such link in some tangible way. A few pretentious leads here and there aren't enough to do the job, and with that in mind, yes, "Cloverfield Lane" does, offer interesting bait, but its catch is, to say the least, unfulfilled.
Nevertheless, thanks to its taut direction and performances, the adventure is certainly worth experiencing. (By the way, Goodman is gripping throughout and if this weren't an offbeat horror picture, he'd be a shoe-in for an Oscar.) At the same time, the story may have been more suspenseful as a stand-alone, inspiring us to ponder Howard's sincerity on a grander scale. With "Cloverfield" in the title (whatever the hell that banner means), one realizes that something horrifying does, in fact, exist beyond the shelter, and this blunts the climax's impact, though visually it remains eerie and striking.
If "Cloverfield Lane"gains widespread favor on the basis of its premise, it's likely because viewers will have granted it through their collective imagination, and perhaps on this basis, the filmmakers deserve credit for fostering this tactic. After all, the new "Cloverfield", like the old, is destined to be discussed, debated and dissected for years to come. Let's just hope that, whether we fancy the ultimate reveal or not, such culminates in something solid.