10 Cloverfield Lane Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
After surviving a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker with two men. Howard (John Goodman) tells her that a massive chemical attack has rendered the air unbreathable and their only hope of survival is to remain inside. Despite the comforts of home, Howard's controlling and menacing nature makes Michelle want to escape. After taking matters into her own hands, the young woman finally discovers the truth about the outside world. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)
Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield (2008) is best known for its elaborate and ultimately empty J.J. Abrams-driven ad campaign, but is still essential as a mainstream Hollywood reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While it doesn’t really work as a dramatic piece, it utilizes the found-footage gimmick in a way that perfectly encapsulates a purely visceral reaction to the unpredictability of modern terrorism. Between admittedly bland scenes of bickering twenty-somethings, Reeves tapped into a primal, lizard brain fear. I hoped that there would be a Cloverfield sequel someday – one that would follow the lead set by Barry Levinson’s The Bay (2012), where, multiple found-footage sources are culled by a third party into a faux-documentary about parasites invading a small coastal town. A “real” Cloverfield 2 might have revisited the events of the first movie via multiple points-of-view, perhaps in the form of a mockumentary or, even better, it could’ve recreate the panic of flipping channels to get the most up-to-date information during the real 9/11.
Now, it’s eight years later and mainstream sci-fi/horror has moved on to the politics of the 99% and ghost stories, leaving the spectre of 9/11 to superhero movies and their building-smashing mass destruction. So, Abrams and his Bad Robot cohorts have taken a completely different approach to their Cloverfield follow-up, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). They started with an unrelated spec script by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken, entitled The Cellar, then brought Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle on to clean it up, as well as retroactively and very loosely connect it to Reeves’ found-footage monster movie. The Cloverfield connections were reportedly decided upon very late in pre-production, which makes comparisons between the films more academic than relevant, but the fact that two such wildly different films were ultimately connected by a title (and a few story elements) is a pretty fascinating prospect for major theatrical releases. That said, the ‘connections’ are tepid letdown and feel very tacked-on, not to mention tack-y.
For a director, Abrams and Bad Robot went to Dan Trachtenberg, a first time feature director who gained fame when he made a self-financed Portal-themed fan film, Portal: No Escape. The technical simplicity of Campbell, Stuecken & Chazelle’s characters and mystery-heavy script leaves much of the film open to stylish visual interpretation, which is Trachtenberg’s forte, and the professional quality of his core cast – Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher, Jr. – ensures that the inexperienced feature filmmaker isn’t thrown into the proverbial ‘deep-end.’ In short, with the script and cast provided, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an easy movie for a novice director to make. However, the stage-play-like limitations also ensure that it is a difficult movie to make well. For his part, Trachtenberg keeps things tense and, with help from cinematographer Jeff Cutter, the narrow scope doesn’t restrict the imagery. These single-location type films are often subliminally claustrophobic, but a bomb shelter is very, very literally claustrophobic – something Trachtenberg conveys wonderfully with close-ups and oppressive brick and concrete walls throughout the back corners of the frame.
When it does work, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a follow-up to Cloverfield, but the successor to Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Sleuth (1972), Sidney Lumet’s Deathtrap (1982), Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm (1989), and David Slade’s Hard Candy (2005). Like these films, the bulk of the story portrays a very intimate battle between personalities and ideologies. And, for about half of its runtime, the intensity of that battle is palpable enough to cover some of the more oversimplified characterizations. Unfortunately, the intensity peaks too early, when the most basic nature of the outside threat is revealed (i.e. there is danger). Though it’s nice to see Winstead and Goodman bouncing off each other in a more friendly fashion, those oversimplified characterizations start rearing their head during the quiet second act. Trachtenberg certainly knows how to shoot and cut a montage, but there are also a number of very ham-fisted monologues (well-acted, of course) that get in the way of otherwise enjoyable build-up to a satisfying and slightly trashy showdown. Then the climax happens and, like most movies that J.J. Abrams touches, it gets way too Spielberg-y (to be any more specific would spoil the dumb ending).
10 Cloverfield Lane was shot entirely in digital HD using Red Epic Dragon cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1 video. Trachtenberg and Cutter craft a film that glows, sometimes, like a candle with warm hues spill softly from utter blackness and, other times, like a lowly lit office building, where fluorescent lights cast a teal tint. As a result, the look is very ‘digital,’ but not in terms of over-sharpened edges or overstated/artificial-looking color timing. The keys here are the soft gradations, the almost total lack of noise or digital grain, and the neat patterns, which remain tightly-knit, even in the soft-focus backgrounds. The slightly stylized color-timing doesn’t overwhelm the eclectic and vivid colors. Smooth shading allows details and strong colors to emerge from very pure pools of deep black without a lot of digital noise or banding effects. There is some digital noise, of course, but nothing more than I’d expect from a movie shot with such little light.
10 Cloverfield Land comes fitted with a next-gen Dolby Atmos soundtrack, though this review will pertain to the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core track (I don’t have Atmos abilities and frankly don’t think I ever will, because my apartment just isn’t big enough to accommodate it). This is a nicely layered and consistently atmospheric track, despite being a mostly dialogue-driven film. There are still plenty of standout moments, beginning with an early car crash (experienced from within the car) and including the low rumble of mystery machinery outside the shelter, the ‘60s pop tunes on Howard’s jukebox, loads of banging scare cues, and other things I can’t mention, because they’d constitute spoilers. Bear McCreary’s mournful and suspenseful score does an incredible job setting the tone and allows Trachtenberg to make quite a few narrative shortcuts early in the film, when several minutes pass without a single line of dialogue. The somewhat heavy-handed classical cues are rich and punchy with wonderful LFE throb and delicate strings.
Commentary by director Dan Trachtenberg and producer J.J. Abrams – Trachtenberg is jovial and Abrams follows his lead during this pleasantly informative track. There are moments where the director and producer lose momentum and spend too much time patting backs (Abrams is the most guilty of this), but the technical discussion – stuff like how Trachtenberg changed camera angles during reshoots to convey different emotions – is genuinely interesting.
Cloverfield Too (9:10, HD) – Introductory cast & crew interviews concerning the film’s basic concepts and the characters.
Bunker Mentality (3:50, HD) – A brief production design/set-building featurette.
Duck and Cover (1:40, HD) – An even shorter costume design featurette.
Spin-Off (3:50, HD) – Concerning the in-camera special effects and pyrotechnics.
Kelvin Optical (6:10, HD) – A look at the digital effects and editing, all of which were done within the Bad Robot offices.
Fine Tuned (6:40, HD) – Bear McCreary and the filmmakers discuss the film’s intense musical score.
End of Story (3:20, HD) – Abrams further explains why they decided to connect the film to Cloverfield and the cast & crew offer their final thoughts.
The images on this page are NOT representative of the Blu-ray image quality.