When is a sequel not a sequel? When it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. The hit follow-up to the iconic Cloverfield had a lot to live up to in terms of legacy but it opted for a different path than most sequels. Instead of being a direct continuation of the story, it serves as a “spiritual successor” which maintains the atmosphere of the IP and very little else. This is largely due to the film beginning development as an independent script from writers Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken before J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot swooped in and adapted it to fit the world of Cloverfield.
This means that the plot was the primary focus of the script rather than conforming to public perception of legacy or trying to continue a story that needs no continuation. The film sees recently brokenhearted Michelle trapped in a bunker with conspiracy theorist Howard and town handyman Emmet during a supposed global attack. It’s a tale full of twists, with each more crushing to our characters than the last. At the center of it is Howard, whose motivations are always in question whether he seems kind, quirky or malicious. He switches between playing the roles of protagonist and antagonist which keeps the audience on their toes. This would be true regardless of what horrors may or may not await in the outside world.
The ambiguity of what is happening outside adds a further layer of tension. Howard’s theories are never specific enough to be believable but that could just be because he doesn’t know for certain what has happened. This ambiguity would be enough but 10 Cloverfield Lane takes it one step further by seemingly confirming each theory as the story progresses. Is it attacks from Russia, invasion by aliens or is there simply nothing wrong at all? The major twist in the plot may seem to be whether Michelle can escape Howard (and that is a twist) but it’s primarily what may await her if she gets free. This reveal even pulls a bait-and-switch at the very last moment to keep the audience on edge for as long as possible. Knowing the outcome doesn’t harm the ending of the film either, it simply changes why this aspect is so tense. Instead of worrying what may happen to Michelle outside, we become concerned by the lengths she is willing to go through to escape Howard and meet her fate.
Despite not being a found footage flick, there is still a high level of realism present, largely due to the production methods. Instead of filming scenes out of sequence due to location and actor availability, the film was shot entirely in order minus a few pickup shots. They also used MDF Boards (painted to look like concrete) to construct a physical bunker which, aside from allowing them to film however they wanted, allows for a natural flow from room to room. There’s no trying to figure out schematics (a la Seinfeld’s apartment) because this is a physical space with a physical layout. It was also designed to look like it had been built in stages over the course of many years which is a minor enough detail that most probably won’t pick up on it but still adds a layer of authenticity. It’s all wrapped together in the bow that is Bear McCreary’s unsettling score. It allows for an added level of emotion manipulation that the original Cloverfield was never able to provide, and it is never overused. When the scene requires silence, it has it but when the tension needs lifting there’s the score. This is only one of McCreary’s many projects, but he would, most noticeably to me, go on to provide the score for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
There are those who will claim that the sequel is never as good as the original but films like 10 Cloverfield Lane prove that they are wrong. It’s not just on par with its predecessor, it surpasses it on every level. It has fewer elements in location and cast means that there is a much smaller room for error…so none are made. It’s worth getting trapped with.