10 Cloverfield Lane came out this month! Just like its 2008 predecessor Cloverfield, it was a surprise announcement, and the true nature of the film has been shrouded in secrecy. And just like with Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane built up excitement and mystery with a complex and creepy alternate reality game (or ARG).
So what’s the connection between the two movies? What did J.J. Abraham Lincoln mean when he said 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a sequel but a “blood relative” to Cloverfield? Is it a mean older brother? Precocious twin sister? Cool uncle? Cousin that’s constantly in and out of jail? Grab a Slusho, lock yourself in your doomsday bunker and keep reading to find out!
First, give the trailer a look if you haven’t seen it yet:
Super tense right? It’s a great trailer because it tells you what kind of story it is, and sets up the mood and tone without giving away the movie’s nerve-jangling secrets. Frankly, after I saw the trailer, I didn’t really care if it was connected to the original Cloverfield or not, I was really excited to see a suspenseful, claustrophobic, Twilight Zone-y thriller. Plus John Goodman is the shit, and he slam dunks this role.
Which is to say, the movie has no narrative connections to Cloverfield. It doesn’t take place in the same timeline or universe, and the Cloverfield monster and its little bug buddies never show up. So it’s less a “blood relative” and more a “former college roommate that you haven’t talked to in like 8 years.”
Monster fans sniffed this out pretty quick. 10 Cloverfield Lane’s story was adapted from an original script titled The Cellar. While there aren’t any narrative ties between the two movies, I will say they share very similar themes, tone, and a focus on building suspense on an intimate, human scale. I wish J.J. just would have come out and said “we decided to make the Cloverfield movies an anthology series that tie together thematically instead of direct sequels,” instead of dancing around it with bullshit. There’s a difference between building an air of mystery and just lying to your audience.
But ultimately, 10 Cloverfield Lane is such a good thriller that it doesn’t really matter. It’s a great stand-alone movie that I’d recommend to anybody looking for a suspenseful, spine-tingling night at the movies. I hope it does well enough that the Cloverfield anthology can continue: it’s always a pleasure to see more smart, scary sci-fi.
I’m happy to clarify 10 Cloverfield Lane’s nebulous connection to Cloverfield and give it a hearty recommendation, but it’s not the type of movie I review on MONSTERS CONQUER THE WORLD. So the only thing that would make sense now is to do an in-depth review of Death Kappa.
Just kidding! I mean, I’ll probably review Death Kappa eventually, but my point is that right now I’m gonna review Cloverfield.
Remember this bad bitch? Its surprise trailer launched even more speculation than 10 Cloverfield Lane’s. Depending on who you asked, it was “for sure” either a Godzilla movie, an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, a spin-off of Abram’s TV smash Lost, or my favorite, most ridiculous theory: a live-action Voltron adaptation. The initial trailer was untitled, fueling the rampant guessing and adding to the hype. Title or not, I don’t think this would have been the right tone for something as colorful and fantastic as Voltron:
9/11-style imagery and people screaming in the streets don’t quite suit colorful robot lions battling space-monsters, but in the trailer somebody screams “It’s alive!” which people interpreted as “It’s a lion!” which makes this theory even funnier to me. No matter what that theory was based on, I’m glad we didn’t end up with a needlessly grim’n’gritty version of this:
Since Cloverfield is a found-footage flick, the vast majority of the soundtrack is indie rock and pop appropriate for the 20-somethings’ house party at the beginning of the movie, just there to set the scene. It does that job well, but it doesn’t really stick with you. What’s left is “Roar!” an incredible suite of bombastic old-school monster movie music that sounds like it came straight from Akira Ifukube himself, and for my money it’s second only to his work. Give it a listen!
Of course, to keep the found footage illusion up, this doesn’t play until the end credits have rolled for a minute or so, which was a fun surprise on my first viewing back in theaters. This firmly planted composer Michael Giacchino on my movie music-maker radar. In addition to J.J. producing the core concept, Cloverfield was written by Lost scribe Drew Goddard (who went on to write one of my favorite flicks of the last decade, Cabin in the Woods) and directed by Matt Reeves (who went on to write and direct Let Me In, and is helming the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes). So in classic horror movie tradition, Cloverfield was an opportunity for up-and-coming new-ish filmmakers to cut their teeth.
So let’s get into it! The movie starts with foreboding government warnings (“area formerly known as ‘Central Park'”) and inscrutable code numbers before cutting to cutesy-wutesy bullshit of our yuppie protagonists Rob and Beth. That probably sounds meaner than I mean: in this first moment they’re just one of those disgustingly cute couples and they’re 20-something millionaires, so it’s a lot to choke down at the start of the movie. It’s funny because when this came out 8 years ago, I was just barely younger than the protagonists, so they seemed like very cool, cosmopolitan adults: now they just seem like rich kids flailing at what they perceive adulthood to be. Either way, its a traditional “twenty minutes with jerks” horror movie first act.
They even poke fun at this classic trope by having characters talk about what an awesome night they’re going to have at Rob’s going away party. Rob’s going away to Japan for a high profile job promotion, so his friends are all there to congratulate him on the bright and long future ahead of him. Spoiler alert: a sky-scraper sized sea ape-spider is minutes away from butt-fucking their whole block.
While it gives us a little time to get to know the characters, it also does a great job of making the in-universe camera a part of the movie instead of just a clever gimmick. The whole reason we even see Rob and Beth’s saccharine date at the beginning is because it’s being sloppily taped over. Even better, whenever the camera is stopped, rewound, or banged around, the tape glitches out and reverts back to the original date footage. Jumping from pretty people smiling on a ferris wheel to those same people bloody, screaming, and running from mutant bugs in the dark is pretty fucking powerful.
At Rob’s party we find out that he and Beth had a falling out: with his transfer coming up, he chose to cut ties with her by ignoring her like a full-blown douchenozzle. She shows up with another guy, feelings are hurt, and Rob gets cornered by his brother Jason and his best friend Hud for one of those booze-fueled heart-to-heart talks that happen at every college house party. Hud’s the goober running the camera, played by a little baby T.J. Miller!
Jason and Hud give us a couple soon-to-be dramatically ironic comments about holding on tight to the people you love no matter what happens when they’re cut off by a distant boom, roar, and the whole building shuddering violently.
The power flickers on and off, car alarms go off all over the city, and everybody shuts up to hear the news on TV. They find out about a capsized oil tanker near the Statue of Liberty, and try to spot it from the roof. What they see instead is a massive explosion, and understandably the tipsy 20 somethings fall into a frightened frenzy. Someone in the crowd asks “do you think it’s another terrorist attack?” before everybody eventually ends up in the street. Then we get the most iconic moment in the movie:
Just after Lady Liberty’s emerald dome comes skidding to a stop, Hud catches a glimpse of the gigantic monster rumbling away behind a skyscraper. The street gets enveloped in an all-too familiar cloud of smoky dust and debris, and people are screaming in abject horror. Where lots of movies would indulge in disaster porn, Cloverfield treats this spectacle as the terrifying, life-altering cataclysm it would be in real life. Our protagonists duck into a bodega to avoid the noxious dust and smoke, and when they exit find themselves in the hazy, fiery hellscape of mid-monster NYC.
Hud plays back the monster footage he captured, and people are rightfully incredulous: “That makes no sense!” someone says in response, possibly with full-on doo-doo in their panties. And as if a 300 ft tall octo-scorpion-gorilla suplexing buildings wasn’t fucking shitty enough, a thoroughly shell-shocked Marlena (played by post-Mean Girls, pre-Masters of Sex Lizzy Caplan) informs everyone, “it’s eating people. It was eating everyone.”
So understandably, everyone decides to get the hell out of Dodge. Specifically by hoofing it to the Brooklyn Bridge and hoping for the best. They wander through burning ruins and glimpse EMTs trying to help shrieking, blood-soaked victims. Police are there to wave people through to the bridge but can’t provide any real answers as to what the hell is happening. The bridge is packed with scared people shuffling for their lives. A helicopter is hovering overhead, and somebody with a megaphone keeps ordering the mass “DO NOT STOP.” The majority of classic monster and kaiju movies feature evacuation scenes, but few are this intense and intimate.
Since Rob is a movie protagonist though, he of course finds a reason to try to stop: he’s getting a call from Beth! And in the surging mass of people, our heroes start to get separated. Hud and Jason’s girlfriend Lily make their way back to Rob, but Jason is pushed further and further up the bridge. And then it starts a-rockin’…
So guess who came a-knockin’?
Rob, Lily, Hudy, and Marlena scramble off the bridge and regroup. Not surprisingly, Rob is pretty much fried. Watching your brother get bitch-slapped straight to heaven by a creature that’s a living “fuck you” to square cube law will do that to anybody. Looters are running wild, so Rob runs into an electronics store to gank a new battery for his phone so he can try and contact Beth. Inside, even the looters are stopped in their tracks by the TVs broadcasting rough footage of the monster. We get one of our first good looks at the creature here, and it is all kinds of bad news: an inscrutable, writhing body with a grotesque tangle of unnaturally long, gangly limbs. Oh, and it’s shedding dozens of lightning-quick, dog-sized murder spiders. We see them take down a few confused soldiers.
Marlena and Hud are now full-on begging Rob to leave the store as he listens to Beth’s terrified voicemail. She’s bleeding and can’t get out of her apartment. Rob decides to rush to her aid over in the most monstery part of town, and thankfully, some of his friends have enough sense to not be up for his suicidal rescue mission. Hud threatens to tackle him, Marlena argues that Beth is probably dead, and even some randos running the opposite way plead with Rob to turn back in their native tongue. It’s another nice realism moment that helps ground the film. Lots of other stories would have the characters decide a lot quicker that saving Beth is the right thing to do. They don’t even really come to a consensus until later still: the monster puts a pin in their discussion by slamming its foot/hand/paw/indescribable appendage down in the street just ahead of them, and then waves and waves of army dudes (and even a couple tanks) rush in behind them, guns blazing.
It’s one of the coolest sequences because it establishes that even the good guys are accidentally super dangerous. Sort of like in the 1998 Godzilla, only here it doesn’t come across as gross incompetence. With the monster just a few yards ahead of them bellowing and shrieking as it’s peppered with bullets, our heroes dash into a subway platform and find it eerily abandoned. Creepy or not, it gives them (and us) a deserved breather.
We get some meaty character moments down here. Rob has a bit of a shit-fit when Hud, Lily and Marlena all agree they need to wait out the chaos above. Rob and Lily console each other about losing Jason, and Hud admits to Marlena he has no idea how to talk to Rob about something this serious. It’s amazing because even though they started the movie as such a bunch of annoying little butt-shits, you actually do empathize with them now that things have gone off the rails. Everybody in the cast does a good job of acting piss-pants scared at some point or another, which humanizes them a ton. We’re not done with these poor fuckers yet though, so the earth shakes, we hear more explosions and crazy monster noises from up above, and the lights flicker and eventually go off. Time to walk the tunnels, ya suckers!
The tunnel of course is pitch black, with the only light coming from the little one mounted on the camera. Hud accidentally freaks them out by regaling them with stories of a guy that was lighting homeless people on fire in the subway tunnels. Swarms of rats ramp up the fear by scurrying en masse in the same direction as our heroes. Once the otherworldly clicking and screeching noises start echoing in the darkness, our heroes are already jogging. “Oh hey, looks like we’re outrun whatever was making unearthly, menacing sounds in the oppressive darkness! All right! High fives everyone! Here, let’s double check the night vision mode just to–
This goes…. not rad for our heroes. Everyone except Rob gets full-on tackled by hungry nightmare monsters at some point during the scuffle, but nobody gets it worse than Marlena. She valiantly clubs a bug off of Hud with a pipe, but then gets a nice meaty chunk bitten out of her shoulder. It’s a frantic, sloppy, and tense moment. Our heroes make it to safety, but they’re shook up and beat to shit. I love when giant monster movies feature a horde of little monsters for humanity to contend with, and Cloverfield’s ravenous little shits are some of the best.
Our bloodied and battered heroes escape back to the surface. They find themselves in an abandoned mall, filled with blindingly bright light. After another suspenseful moment, a squad of heavily armed soldiers reveal themselves and take the gang into their department store HQ. Marlena is so happy to see them she cries a little!
Marlena manages to keep up though, and we get a quick walk-through of their improvised base. Mostly it’s a safe place for hundreds of grievously injured people to get help from the scant few on-site medics. We see a corpse with an exploded-out chest cavity wheel by on a gurney, and Hud spots a team dressed in haz-mat suits bringing in a live bug under glass. When Rob and co. try to get a handle on what the fuck is really going on, the commanding officer tells them “whatever it is, it’s winning,” right before they get orders to close up shop and leave the city. Things are starting to get tense between the protagonists and the army, but it’s interrupted by a doctor and some haz-mat folks noticing Marlena.
Space-suited personnel rush Marlena after somebody screams “We got a bite!” What happens next is the real reason why Cloverfield’s mini-monsters stuck with me so damn much. Despite Hud’s terrified best efforts, Marlena is dragged off into a separate quarantine tent and then this happens:
Holy shit! Going back and rewatching it a couple times to find a good clip takes the impact away, but I was freaked out by this the first time I saw it. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s the most shocking reaction to a monster attack I’ve seen since the original Alien. Seriously if you didn’t see the movie or don’t remember, just watch the clip. Describing it in text will make it seem a lot sillier than it is. Again the grounded, panicky, desperate atmosphere takes something that would be fantastical or even goofy in any other context and makes it the stuff of nightmares.
After the chaos of Marlena meeting her gruesome end Rob, Hud, and Lily find themselves getting escorted out a back exit. The commanding officer warns them of the impending “Hammerdown Protocol,” which is military slang for “we’re gonna nuke New York’s tits clean off, so be out of town before we decide to do that.” They spill out into an alley, and Hud finally breaks down and loses his shit. He was sweet on Marlena, she had started warming up to him during the chaos, she saved his life, and then suddenly all of her meat forcefully separated from her skeleton while he watched helplessly on the other side of a tarp.
Rob promises to come back for Hud and Lily if they want to stay put and pull themselves together, but they suck it up and accompany Rob to go rescue Beth. The fiery streets are now eerily empty, and we get this deliciously creepy image:
Other than experiencing some chilling atmosphere, our protagonists make it to Beth’s building without incident. Unfortunately for them (but fortunately for us), her building is now leaning up against the one next to it. And she lives on the 39th floor.
On their way up, Hud starts pitching his different monster origin theories. He’s been a pretty good audience surrogate throughout the movie, but this bit takes the cake. He suggests deep ocean trenches, the far reaches of outer space, and secret government projects as possible sources for the monster before his friends tell him to shut up. If the supplemental materials and in-movie Easter eggs are right, it’s more or less the first theory, with a bit of the second.
They find a huge gash in the side of the building that leads to the perilous roof of the other. Jets scream by overhead as they make their vertigo-inducing climb across, and they finally make it into Beth’s bat-angled building. After a quick, stumbly jaunt, they find Beth’s apartment and bust in! Hooray! But she’s been impaled on some exposed rebar.
But she’s not dead! Whoo! All right! She’s lost a bunch of blood and barely conscious, but it’s still better than dead! Hud sets the camera down to help Rob and Lily pull her off the rod ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°). We don’t see it, but we sure do hear it! Incredibly, they’re able to get her on her feet and start making their way out of the building. Yes, in the movie about a 300 ft tall squid-mantis choke-slamming the Chrysler Building, Beth getting up and walking around was the part I had trouble believing.
What follows is an action-packed race to the helicopters, a sort of mini-marathon of quick horrors as they desperately scramble to some semblance of safety. They manage to shamble across the roof back to the upright building, and Beth gets her first glimpse of Clovie… right before jets scream by overhead and bomb the piss out of it. Keep going! Bug monsters in the stairs! GO GO GO! They wind up practically right next to the monster as it gets whacked with missiles again! RUN BITCH RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! It stomps a tank just up the street from the choppers! Get to them!
Miraculously, they all make it! Radical! Lily gets whisked away to safety on the first helicopter, while Hud, Beth, and Rob wait for the next one. While they wait, Rob and Beth share a well-earned smoocharino. Granted if it were me, I’d hold off on frenching babes until we were more than a block away from the man-eating, bomb-proof murder mutant, but I guess that’s why I’m not a horror movie protagonist. Rob, Beth, and Hud make it safely onto the next helicopter, and if Jurassic Park taught me anything (besides the fact that Jeff Goldblum fucking rules) it’s that this means our heroes are in the clear, and we can all chill. I mean, after that funhouse-gauntlet of insane terrors they sprinted through, surely they–
Well, that’s jumping ahead a little. Turns out their nightmare marathon isn’t quite done yet! As they lift off into the air, they get a view of city below and watch Clovie stomping around like a maniac. A stealth bomber swoops in and carpet bombs the bitch, and everyone aboard (especially Hud) cheer wildly, convinced that we’ve bested the beast. Smoke billows, and there’s no sign of the marauding monster! …Until it goes full soccer hooligan and headbutts the shit out of our heroes’ chopper.
This takes us to the scariest scene in the movie. While the found footage conceit lends plausibility to the rampaging sci-fi monsters, it also enhances the more down-to-earth scenes. After getting zonked by Clovie, the chopper starts spinning out of control. Onboard alarms go off, everyone is screaming, and you can see the world spinning madly out the choppers’ windows. Hud’s sobbed quasi-prayers (“Jesus Christ I’m sorry!”) sound so authentic it makes me wonder if they just threw T.J. Miller in a crashing helicopter and recorded it. This is all well done and hair-raising on its own, but the fucking relentless found footage camera makes you feel like you’re trapped right there with them. The movie is basically saying “Fuck no we’re not cutting to a long shot of the chopper or close-ups on the characters! You go down with them!”
The pilots are super dead, but our heroes manage to pull themselves free of the flaming wreckage. Over the choppers’ radio they hear “Target still active. Initiate Hammerdown.” Some real bad shit is about to go down real soon. In the chaos, we get our first daytime view of the city, and it is a gut-wrenching, smoldering ruin. Just when it seems like things (once again) couldn’t get any worse, Hud turns around to grab the camera and sees this:
We’re then treated to one of the weirdest, awesomest moments in a found footage movie. Hud hangs on to the camera as he’s lifted up into the air and bitten in half by the Cloverfield monster. It’s easily the coolest death in the movie, and it’s followed by a great, dark gag where the camera’s autofocus can’t decide on whether to focus on Hud’s bod or the blades of grass between him and the lens. Rob and Beth grab the camera and haul ass to hide under a stone bridge.
In a grim callback to his going-away party just a few hours earlier, Rob and Beth finally record their testimonials. In the background we hear air raid sirens, explosions, and Clovie’s eerie, whale song-esque bellows of agony. They hold each other as the bridge collapses on them in a wall of fire. And then the real villain of the movie, the bitter, heartless camera, glitches out and shows us the sugary sweet last moments of the original tape. Rob and Beth are canoodling on a ferris wheel, reflecting on what a perfect day they had together.
So that’s Cloverfield! It’s good! It was a moderate success critically and commercially, and it is easily one of the best found footage movies. It excellently blends nerve-frying suspense, unhinged horror, and even some dry humor. Cloverfield came almost ten years after The Blair Witch Project and a year after Paranormal Activity, and even then people were saying “oh this found footage gimmick will die off soon,” yet here we still are, getting found footage movies (usually horror flicks) every year. The found footage technique adds a disbelief-suspending layer of grit and reality to the world of ghosts and slashers, but I like to think Cloverfield inspired some of the more inventive films, like the superheroes gone wrong tale of Chronicle, or the absolutely wonderful Norwegian horror-comedy Troll Hunter.
Cloverfield is an effective reminder that the way you tell a story can be just as important as the story itself. Not only with the found footage motif, but with J.J. Abrams’ trademark penchant for peppering his productions with cryptic clues and easter eggs. Fans gobble this shit up and show they have way more patience than me by taking the time to decode it all. They do this by navigating and hacking seemingly random (fake) blogs and corporate websites like this and this, reversing or manipulating sound clips, examining and altering still images to find clues, or even watching unconnected movies and shows for hints… it’s totally beyond me, but it eventually unlocks additional mini stories that inform and tie into the main one.
It’s thanks to this madness that we now know the Cloverfield monster’s origin! Sort of. Depending on what source you use, it was either stirred out of hiding by Slusho’s parent company deep-sea drilling for their secret addictive ingredient “seabed’s nectar,” or by an errant satellite crashing into the ocean that you can totally see in the final scenes of the movie.
One tidbit that didn’t come out of Cloverfield’s viral marketing fever dream is that the Cloverfield monster is actually just a sweet scared baby. It’s a trait that doesn’t directly present itself during the film’s running time, but it’s super interesting to rewatch with that in mind. Clovie’s actually pretty unique in the (surprisingly populous) world of kaiju babies. Plenty of movies have featured titanic toddlers, but they usually either:
- Quickly grow into even deadlier adults,
- Get rescued by their bigger, bad-asser parent-monsters, or
- Get wiped out by the heroes
Clovie meanwhile doesn’t slot into any of these conventions, and is ultimately just a terrified infant stumbling around and getting hurt. He’s obviously the only real victim in the movie.
There was also a Japanese comic book spin-off/prequel called Cloverfield/Kishin, where a high school kid forms a bond with the monster and they work together to murder bullies, a cult, and the military.
Cloverfield’s success may have been modest, but if it didn’t shape the current moviescape, it at least was a good predictor for parts of it. Found footage movies are here to stay, and for every few uninspired shaky-cam messes, you get a Troll Hunter or a V/H/S, so I’d call that a net win. What’s way, way more exciting is that it seems like Cloverfield has ushered in a new wave of giant monster films. In the years after 1-18-08, Pacific Rim and Godzilla have made their marks on the box office, with new King Kong, Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, and Power Rangers projects on the way, plus oddballs like Colossal and the Rampage adaptation coming soon. Clovie may not ever get that sequel, but Godzilla and friends will pour one out for our homie that ain’t with us no more.