Very few things come as a surprise in the movie industry anymore. Studios often “leak” information and breaking news about new movie projects many months and sometimes years in advance to start building up the hype train. There are still moments here and there which rekindle that feeling of “wait, what?” that makes movies, especially trailers, so fun. One of those moments occurred last week when the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane dropped during the previews for the movie 13 Hours (see kids, previews can be fun). The movie, produced by J.J. Abrams, is billed as “a blood relative” to the 2008 monster movie Cloverfield, also produced by Abrams.
The internet cry for a sequel to Cloverfield has been going on for years now, with internet sleuths looking for clues in every script release and project update with Abrams attached to it. The 2011 Abrams alien flick Super 8 was wildly believed to have been a prequel, which Abrams quelled. So now we finally have our next Cloverfield movie, but immediately with the trailers release we find out the movie is not a sequel per se, but a “blood relative”. This raises a couple of questions which I want to address. First, “what is a blood relative?”; and, “what can/should we expect from a movie of this distinction?”.
“Blood relative” movies refer to movies within the same cinematic universe. There are shared events and characters, but the story is not a linear one and usually entails multiple stories which tie into a central connecting story. Though not a new storytelling technique, this strategy has become a big part of the movie/television scene in the last 15 years, but no franchise has enveloped the concept quite so much as the Marvel universe. Star Wars has jumped on the bandwagon with their first one-off film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and there is a really elaborate theory about Pixar movies belonging to the same universe.
That 10 Cloverfield falls in this category of movie isn’t too much of a surprise. (Spoiler alert for Cloverfield follows) Those who have seen the first movie know that the main protagonists die, leaving a character hole which would make a traditional sequel difficult to pull off, unless you’re the writers for the original Planet of the Apes movies. At the end of Cloverfield we were left wondering what happens to the monster. This is where the distinction between a sequel and a “blood relative” will become important. Because the story of the monster was the integral part of Cloverfield, a sequel would have to revolve around the monster. The trailer for 10 Cloverfield makes it clear that the focus is on this group of people. This story will be about the survivors of the monster attack and how they’ve learned to cope with the world in its aftermath.
Having said that, what should we expect from this movie? Abrams is well known for creating mystery around his work. Some of that mystery is manufactured (Cloverfield, Super 8, Khan in the second Star Trek movie) and some is the result of overzealous fans and conspiracy theorists over-analyzing stuff. 10 Cloverfield continues his trend of revealing very little information, so much that if not for Abrams’ own comments about this being related, one wouldn’t know at all the movie was tied to Cloverfield. The trailer makes a couple of things seem clear: this group of people (maybe a family though it seems questionable) is hiding underground and the girl wants to escape. There are a couple of things which possibly allude to a monster rampaging outside the bunker, but nothing definitive. Ultimately the trailer builds its suspense on two things: something deadly is going on outside the bunker and the word Cloverfield is in the title.
Speaking of having that word in the title, one user on internet message board site Reddit posted an interesting spin on what this movie is. The short explanation is that the movie was originally filmed as a different movie altogether, but the studio (Paramount) is attaching the Cloverfield tag to generate more excitement. It’s an interesting theory, and would help explain how the movie went so long without any news of its release. This theory also explains the ambiguity of the trailer. The big sell for the first Cloverfield was the monster, there wasn’t any question that first movie was about a monster attack. This movie is about a small group of people, the lack of definitive connection to the Cloverfield monster seems to reinforce the notion that this movie was not originally part of the Cloverfield universe. Even the official movie poster alludes to the absence of the monster.
With that in mind, the expectation for this movie should revolve around the fact that this movie is not a sequel so there is a very good chance that the monster is of minimal consequence. Those who go to the movie expecting a direct follow up to Cloverfield will probably disappointed. That doesn’t mean the movie should be discounted by any stretch. There will be some insight into the events surrounding the monster attack even if it’s indirect. Besides, the movie itself looks intriguing outside of the Cloverfield tie-in. I’m looking forward to the movie, but this isn’t excitement that would last for a year waiting for the movie’s release. Fortunately I only have to wait a couple months.