So is this film a sequel and connected to Cloverfield? Err, well, no and kind of are the simple answers. Writers Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken (if you believe the sources) wrote a woman in confinement script called The Cellar and then was retitled Valencia. Then, at some point, JJ Abrams gets involved and the start of the film is very slightly tweaked, and a brand new ending connecting it to the Cloverfield world is developed.
I have mixed feelings on this as, if you look at any advertising for the film, it says ‘from JJ Abrams, you know, the Star Wars guy? Oh well, we’d better see that then. We love Star Wars.’ It's cynical advertising, like when a really shitty action film is billed as "from one of the producers of Fast & Furious 4. No one really cares right?
Well except here it works. Without Abrams's involvement and Cloverfield title, you would see this as a low budget indie that you’d probably catch on Netflix sometime; however, by adding Abrams name and vague Cloverfieldisms (its a word now!) it works.
The film has been getting strong 4 star reviews across the board and its making a ton of money from its tiny $15 million budget and theres even early talk about a John Goodman oscar nomination which would be great but we know low budget genre films never get nominated.
But back to actual film!!! The film opens with Michelle packing and running away from her boyfriend before she’s involved in a car accident, cue a great opening title sequence. Even in the opening few minutes first time Director Dan Trachtenberg channels the spirit of Hitchcock and ‘Psycho’ with Michelle’s woman on the run sequence.
The first time we see the hulking Goodman, he seems full of menace looming every inch the jailer/survival psycho character we come to know, even bringing Michelle food, he still exerts that fear. Winstead's performance throughout the film is also magnificent, and what works well is how she deals with the situation. So many times in film of this ilk characters always make stupid choices while we sit and yell ‘idiot’ at the screen.
At first, Michelle tries to reason with Howard until he tells her there's been an attack and even then, because of his demeanour, she still doesn’t trust him but plays along plotting her escape. We then meet Emmet, the other survivor who helped Howard build his bunker, but more importantly, corroborates his story and doesn’t seem a crazy survivalist and in fact voluntarily fought his way into the bunker when the attack happened.
Even this doesn’t placate the resourceful Michelle who, upon an escape attempt, sees female survivor outside with what appears to be radiation burns trying to break into the bunker. It's from this point Michelle begins to accept her situation. Howard becomes less menacing and the three characters begin to live a normal post-attack life in the bunker.
Of course this cannot last, and information is uncovered about Howard that again questions his sanity and raises the stakes in the bunker.
The film sort of devolves into pure horror for a while, with Michelle being chased through ventilation shafts (reminiscent of Alien ) while trying to escape the bunker, and as we reach the finale of the film, she escapes and…..
Full spoilers ahead….Turn back now…..not even kidding a little bit…Okay, I warned you.
Howard was right! Giant alien monsters that have attacked the earth with gas, wiping out most of its population and now the ground troops (again looking like xenomorphs) attack Michelle as she escapes. Now here's where the film apparently lost a lot of people, but come on people, the spoiler are in the title. The bunker is at 10 Cloverfield Lane, so surely once you are out of the bunker, something Cloverfield related was bound to happen.
I get that the sudden shift in tone can be too abrasive for some, but that's just what Psycho did. Melodrama into Horror, Dusk Till Dawn Road movie into Horror, and that's what this film does. Once out of the bunker, Michelle has to fight off one of the creatures one on one before freeing herself from being sucked up in a car by a massive space ship.
I’m sure most people would have wanted the film to end with Michelle escaping and Howard's story having been a lie and we get our happy ending, but it wouldn’t be true to Michelle's character. Throughout the film, she has been running and not able to make any decision herself, motivated by fight or flight. At the end of the film, we hear a radio broadcast asking for people to help fight back against the aliens and we also see a sign pointed the other way to ‘Safety.’ At first she heads for safety to run away again—her default action, but because of the events of the film and what she has endured, she is now strong enough to take action rather than react, and chooses to fight as she decides to drive towards the radio signal.
There is a great article here on the Verge's website.
This article really delves into some of the deeper themes of the film and how, in a way, it is all about domestic abuse and how the ending where Michelle chooses to fight back is her first positive step away from being a victim.
Overall, the film actually benefits from being shoe horned into the Cloverfield mythology and goes from a tense dramatic chamber piece to an epic sci-fi action conclusion, with great performances from all the cast and inventive direction from first timer Dan Trachtenberg. 10 Cloverfield Lane, for me, is superior to even the original, and I’d be highly intrigued to see a follow-up alien invasion movie with Michelle’s character.