Bad Robot's Cloverfield turned out to be little more than a serviceable found-footage monster movie built around a Statue of Liberty-sized kaiju tearing through Manhattan, but the mysteries and speculation surrounding its prolonged viral marketing campaign were something to behold. An enigmatic trailer without a title, social-media pages for the characters, and websites built around the fictional brands found in the film created a long line of breadcrumbs for interested parties -- many of whom were already caught up in the puzzle-solving of LOST's missing pieces -- to follow until its release. Dan Tractenberg's 10 Cloverfield Lane, a parallel spinoff set in the same universe, does almost the exact opposite, where instead of a year of promotional nudges and winks, a surprise trailer emerged mere months before the film was slated to arrive in theaters. The difference in approaches to the marketing reflects the differences between the films themselves: 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps its scale small and its intentions cerebral, producing a well-crafted paranoia thriller with apocalyptic science-fiction in its veins.
Instead of jarring, loud interruptions made up of shaky-camera found footage, 10 Cloverfield Lane maintains a steady visual focus while depicting a group of survivors holed up in a fallout shelter following a catastrophic event. Overseeing the bunker is Howard Stambler (John Goodman), a controlling and intimidating ex-military man who forces his two guests, Michelle and Emmitt, to adhere to his rules if they're going to stick around -- and they're going to stick around, whether they want to or not. Michelle, injured and fresh off a marital breakup, grows suspicious and fearful of Howard's motives and contemplates the truth behind the hazardous state of the world above ground. Emmitt, who knew Howard before the event, exhibits less concern due to Howard's willingness to let him wait out the lingering effects of the disaster. There's one constant among them: the only information they're going by is Howard's deduction about the state of the toxic atmosphere, and the length in which they'll have to stay underground before everything's safe.
At first, 10 Cloverfield Lane began as a project called "The Cellar" that didn't have anything to do with Bad Robot's universe, something that makes plenty of sense considering the ambiguous, paranoid atmosphere and post-apocalyptic theorizing going on between the bunker's residents. Attaching it to Cloverfield adds an intriguing -- if unnecessary -- layer to the experience, though, that takes on different meanings depending on whether someone does or doesn't know about the first film's world-building. Without that context, mystery and suspicion loom over Howard's authoritative explanations about the global state of affairs, where he spins a cogent but ominous tale of warfare, weapons of mass destruction, and hopelessness for anyone who isn't in a bunker like his. Knowing the reality of what's going on in New York, on the other hand, replaces some of that vagueness with analysis of the things Howard's saying about the dangers and the fallout. 10 Cloverfield Lane works splendidly on its own regardless, and it's largely because of what it sets out to do with the murkiness of "the truth".
Thus, the bulk of 10 Cloverfield Lane occurs within the confined, shaky corridors of Howard's mildly homey bunker away from the toxic atmosphere, adorned with minimal creature comforts that make the power surges and intermittent tremors in the ground easier for its inhabitants to bear. Smart, polished set design squeezes the most that it can out of the film's modest budget, creating a space that really feels like a fallout shelter designed with years of isolation in mind, with just enough entertainment around -- board games, reading material, movies -- to keep the metal box from seeming like a spruced-up prison. Combined with Bear McCreary's beautifully off-kilter score and John Cutter's cinematography that relishes the bunker's dim lighting and sunken depth, 10 Cloverfield Lane generates a uniquely alarming mood as Michelle and Emmitt adjust to their new surroundings, persuading those watching to consider whether their living conditions may or may not be as they seem.
The effectiveness of 10 Cloverfield Lane swings on the complexity of Howard's nature, placing the bulk of the pressure on John Goodman's burly shoulders. Much like his character's self-designated call to duty, Goodman's up to the task, producing an understandably fearful individual with both sympathetic and unnerving personality traits. Director Tractenberg wants those watching to be uncertain about what Howard wants and why he's so adamant about his rules, and Goodman's fluctuations in temperament -- volatile and controlling in one moment, concerned and misunderstood in another -- are what keep those motivations in a compelling state of flux throughout. Mary Elizabeth Winstead embodies the wide-eyed, fraught, yet crafty victim similarly to how she does in The Thing, while John Gallagher musters a convincingly earnest Louisiana laborer who's more easily persuaded than Michelle, both of whom capably adjust to Howard's dominant flare-ups and seemingly good-intended restriction of freedom. Neither possess very deep character traits, but that's not required for the roles they fill.
Ominous philosophical small-talk, periodic flickers of light and earthen rumbles, and scattered clues about Howard's true nature -- as well as how Michelle came to live in the bunker -- all form into a mystery worth unraveling in 10 Cloverfield Lane, posing questions about trust and lesser evils in the process. These are carefully constructed diversions from director Tracterberg's ultimate intentions, though, which manifest in a hazardous and explosive final act, revealing precisely how this tense underground psychological thriller connects with Bad Robot's pseudo-kaiju flick from nearly a decade prior. Saying any more than that, vague as it may be, borders on spoiler territory, and the surprises waiting on the other side of the door are worth preserving for the exhilarating conclusion telegraphed by Tractenberg. While it may not have been originally devised with this purpose in mind, 10 Cloverfield Lane illustrates what's possible when a sci-fi spinoff is driven by contained, clever writing that'd succeed regardless of its recognizable namesake.
The unique three-quarters slipcase from the prior release of 10 Cloverfield Lane has been abandoned for more a more traditional package with the 4K UltraHD presentation, but the Winstead-Goodman artwork serves as a mash-up of the two for a cohesive cover design. A standard two-disc black holds the 4K and Blu-ray discs, while a Digital Copy Slip for the film covers the left-sided disc; note that unlike the Blu-ray before it (pictured above: Best Buy's exclusive steelbook of that release), a digital code redeemable for the original Cloverfield hasn't been included.
Video and Audio:
10 Cloverfield Lane was shot relatively cheap on Red Epic Dragon digital cameras and stays confined to a small number of rooms lit with either bright fluorescent or soft-glow lamps, but a specific and absorbing style emerges in the fluctuations in lighting and how it impacts skin tones and shadows cast on the bunker. Paramount's standard Blu-ray presented these elements with a lot of strength a few years back, but side-by-side comparisons with the 2.35:1-framed experience in UltraHD reveals some notable improvements in brightness levels and saturation. For the most part, detail remains about on the same level between the two presentations, though sharper eyes might notice an uptick in clarity with things like John Goodman's facial hair, gauze stuck on his forehead, and other small details in rubber gloves, dishrags, and scratches on glass. The satisfying improvements come in the color balance and highlights of the 4K/HDR experience: in side by side comparisons, skin tones are noticeably more natural in gradation, mostly because the prior disc appears a bit heavy and harsh in comparison, and the shades of color projected from walls -- harsh aqua and teal in the living room; pink and stone in Michelle's living space; the striped wallpaper in the dining area -- are pleasingly less saturated and organic in appearance.
With my previous review of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the coverage was limited to the receiver and player's capabilities of downscaling the Dolby Atmos track into a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD presentation, which, even then, yielded one of the more interesting and potent Blu-ray sound experiences of its year. Those comments still stand, but now with the ability to unleash the sound design's full impact, the object-based enhancements and breadth of the confined environment do take things to another level, amplifying both room-filling intensity and sharp touches of atmosphere throughout. Dialogue stays at about the same level clarity, but the surround expansion adds some extra channel responsiveness that gives it a bit of extra punch, while also enhancing the buzz and fluctuating in audibility during fades in and out of hearing loss. The smashing of glass, the sloshing of fluid in a tin drum, and the creak of metal vents enjoy more nuanced sharpness and even presence in the design, while the flickering of lights and the rumble of sounds above ground sprawl across the surround stage for an immersive effect. The strongest enhancements come in certain louder effects -- car crashes, explosions, heavy clanks of metal doors and banging -- which are tighter, firmer, and more potent on the bass and front channels.
Here's a nice little surprise: while there are no new extras created for 10 Cloverfield Lane for this 4K presentation, Paramount haven't simply dumped that responsibility on the included Blu-ray disc. They've made sure to include the Audio Commentary With Dan Tractenberg and J.J. Abrams among the other audio track options, making it possible to watch the enhanced audiovisual version of the film with the fairly decent, if sluggish off-the-bat conversation with the director and producer. From the blue-topped artwork to the dates printed around the rim, the Blu-ray that makes up Disc Two ends up being exactly the same disc as was released in the summer of 2016, and contains both the aforementioned commentary and a slate of seven Featurettes (34:42, 16x9 HD). Please check out my prior review -- click here! -- for more elaboration on those supplements.
My general impressions of 10 Cloverfield Lane haven't really changed after a few extra viewings, so here's a recap:
A surprise both in the stealthiness of its release and in the vigor of its indie sci-fi aims, 10 Cloverfield Lane tells a confined, harrowing story within the same relative universe as that of Bad Robot's monster-disaster movie. This one's quite different, though. Driven by an ambiguous yet menacing performance from John Goodman, a story revolving around apocalyptic fear and dangerous exertion of control takes shape within an enclosed fallout shelter, generating relentlessly absorbing tension and grim ponderings about whether to trust the doomsday stories told by someone whom you cannot fully trust. Director Dan Tractenberg transforms the small scale of the scenario into a thematically and emotionally robust escalation of tension, mounting to a wild finale befitting the Bad Robot pedigree.
Paramount's new 4K UltraHD presentation doesn't have any new extras and repeats the Dolby ATMOS track from the standard Blu-ray, but the uptick in resolution and HDR impact on the image do give this one some added, crucial value, and the inclusion of the old commentary track on the 4K disc earns it a few points as well. Strongly recommended for folks who already own the previous release, but Highly Recommended to anyone who hasn't descended into the bunker quite yet or who wants a unique, tense challenge for 4K-capable home theaters.