by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-chief
I dozed off on my couch last Thursday night and awoke to a handful of messages alerting me to a new trailer that had mysteriously been included on the first screenings of 13 Hours. A bootlegged version had found its way onto YouTube by this time so I clicked on the link and immediately recognized what I was seeing was The Cellar, or Valencia as it had also been called earlier in the process.
What a masterful trailer, teasing just enough without giving anything away. This is what I wish all trailers were. By the time the title came up I was grinning from ear to ear.
I watched it a few more times and tried to sleep but my mind wouldn’t shut off. I was blown away by the trailer and blown away that J.J. had done it once again. He snuck another one by us.
And I love it.
When I woke up Friday morning I was still buzzing about the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane. I had so many questions and I needed to know more. Is Dan Trachtenberg’s film a sequel to Cloverfield? If so, was the connection to the original film strong enough that the actors themselves were aware they were making a film that took place in the Cloverfield universe, or were they in the dark as well? Are the characters in a fallout shelter due to the monster’s attack in the first film? Drew over at Hitfix posited that maybe J.J. could be using “Cloverfield” as a brand for a certain type of mystery box story, an anthology series that could be like Bad Robot’s version of The Twilight Zone. I love that idea. Either way, there are so many questions that beg answers.
I then saw that J.J. released an exclusive statement through Collider shedding a little light on this new film in the most J.J. way possible:
“The idea came up a long time ago during production. We wanted to make it a blood relative of Cloverfield. The idea was developed over time. We wanted to hold back the title for as long as possible.”
If you’re like me, Abrams statement only served to make you more curious. What would a make this film a blood relative to Cloverfield? At what point did they decide to make the film a blood relative? And what the hell does that even mean?
Even with the release date less than two months away, I needed to know more. So I made a call.
It just so happened that one person I knew who might be in a position to give me some information also happened to be close enough for me to travel a short distance to to meet in person. I immediately set a dinner meeting to get to the bottom of things.
This is the point where I tell you that you shouldn’t continue if you don’t want to be spoiled, as there are definitely spoilers ahead.
Still here? Ok, let’s continue.
I arrived at my meeting and was given a copy of a screenplay for The Cellar to read. This is a version of the script written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken.
What did I find out from the script? Much like J.J. alluded to, the original version of this story was not conceived or written to be a sequel, prequel or blood relative to Matt Reeves’ 2008 film Cloverfield. BUT it could be an ingenious idea to connect them, as it would take very little effort to put The Cellar right in the middle of that universe.
The script begins with a violent car crash involving the film’s female lead, Michelle Burke (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who wakes up alone and seriously injured with a bad knee in the underground bomb shelter of Howard Stammler (John Goodman) a veterinarian who has set her leg and tended to the wounds sustained in the car crash. She wakes up disoriented and confused and immediately tries to use her cell phone but finds no signal. She arms herself as best she can and attacks Howard, fearing that she’s being held prisoner.
Howard tells her that there was an attack and that the city of Milwaukee has been destroyed and that he came upon her wrecked car as he was rushing back to his shelter in Kenosha, 40 miles outside the city. To make matters worse he tells her that the countryside has been blanketed with some kind of poisonous chemical. Michelle doesn’t believe him until she looks out the window at the top of the stairs leading to the outside world and sees two dead pigs who look like their skin has melted off, leaving two blobs of blood stained muscle and fat. Howard tells her that this is a result of the poison in the air. She remains skeptical, thinking he might still be a sick pervert who has staged the whole thing to keep her from trying to leave. He stresses that she’s not a prisoner, but that he can’t allow her to leave, as he’s afraid to open the door and let in whatever is out there.
The film is periodically broken up with flashbacks beginning with Michelle in Milwaukee confronting an unfaithful boyfriend and ending with her drunken car crash.
Just when things hit the breaking point a mystery man in a radiation suit suddenly arrives to really throw a wrench in things. It’s here that we are introduced to Nate (John Gallagher Jr.), a man who has a complicated history with Howard and helped build the shelter after 9/11. Michelle believes that Nate could be working with Howard to sell the lie he’s been telling her. But Nate’s arrival only serves to undermine the little bit of trust established between Howard and Michelle, as he casts doubt over Howard’s motives and past, which turns the shelter into a ticking time bomb where violence seems to be all but inevitable. As the story moves forward Howard and Nate’s complicated history is revealed, leaving you guessing about the intentions of each man and makes you wonder if either should be trusted. Tensions build until the climactic final moments take the characters out of the shelter and out into the world.
So where is the Cloverfield’s monster? Not here. What I can tell you is this script was later tightened up by Damien Chazelle (the writer/director of Whiplash, my favorite film of 2014) with a focus on the last act, specifically the ending and to provide connections to the original Cloverfield. I do know that the original scripted ending that I read was shot and even screened, but that the decision was made to change it. I presume this may have been the point that they decided to make the connection to Cloverfield and brought Chazelle in to rework things a bit. Reshoots were conducted fairly recently to address the end and, I’m told, bits were shot that could possibly be used to connect this film to the original Cloverfield.
I really can’t wait to see how 10 Cloverfield Lane turns out in March, as the bones are there for a really great character piece. The story works well because the setup is so simple, the story relies on the constantly increasing tension and claustrophobia and how it affects people who are desperate. Add to that, Trachtenberg is a very talented director (check out his Portal short) who has three great actors to pull it all off.
Peter over at Slashfilm, who is close with 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg, tells us that he thinks the information from my source is not quite accurate. I think he’s confused our report with some info posted via a Reddit post:
… never did reshoots to “add more Cloverfield”, and I’ve heard the finished film is very different from the original spec script…
— Peter Sciretta (@slashfilm) January 20, 2016
Our report shares some bits of information covered in the Reddit post he’s referencing, but we never claimed the film was dumped in any way, shape or form. I stated that there were reshoots, (which there were) and that a different version of the film was screened (and it did). Admittedly, there are a couple of presumptions made on my own part, based off of the information that had been provided to me. If I’m interpreting Peter’s comments correctly, he’s either saying that the reshoots that took place did not connect the film to the original film or that there is no connection between the two before or after the reshoots. My source tells me there were some bits shot that could loosely tie the two together, but isn’t sure that those elements were used.