In an era where it’s just about impossible to make a high-profile movie without at least something leaking onto the web, producer JJ Abrams seems to have pulled off the ultimate coup in recent months: he and his company Bad Robot have secretly created a follow-up, of sorts, to the 2008 hit monster movie, Cloverfield.
On January 15, a trailer landed for 10 Cloverfield Lane, a claustrophobic horror thriller that Abrams described in a statement to Collider as a “blood relative” of that earlier film directed by Matt Reeves.
The premise is this: Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, Michelle, is injured in a car accident and wakes up in a bunker with 40-something survivalist Howard (John Goodman).
Howard tells Michelle that some kind of attack has taken place in the world outside, and that she’s far safer in the bunker with him and Sean (John Gallagher Jr.) in his well-appointed retreat. But gradually, Michelle comes to the conclusion that Howard isn’t entirely trustworthy, and resolves to make her escape.
Now admittedly, this doesn’t exactly sound like it has much to do with Cloverfield, which took a ground-level, found-footage approach to the city-levelling antics of the kaiju genre. But Abrams’ statement suggests it’s a kind of bottle episode spin-off set in the same world as Cloverfield, with the giant monster kept firmly off the screen for its (highly effective ) announcement trailer.
Certain details surrounding 10 Cloverfield Lane suggest that there’s more to it than meets the eye, however. There’s even a rumor, started on Reddit, that 10 Cloverfield Lane wasn’t originally shot as a Cloverfield sequel at all.
Let’s take a little look at the evidence.
The project began life as The Cellar, a spec script written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken. Word of this first emerged back in 2012, where it was voted as one of the most promising scripts of the year by The Tracking Board. The Cellar was subsequently picked up by Bad Robot Productions and developed for a low-budget arm of Paramount Pictures, before going into production under the codename Valencia. (That low-budget arm, called Insurge Pictures, was shut down by Paramount in March 2015, due in part to the tepid box-office of the teen time-travel movie, Project Almanac.)
The Cellar‘s script was later rewritten by Dan Casey and then Damien Chazelle — the latter being the filmmaker behind the acclaimed jazz drumming drama Whiplash. Despite the project’s low budget, The Cellar attracted a solid cast, with Goodman, Winstead and John Gallagher Jr (Short Term 12, The Newsroom) all signing up in 2014.
The task of making The Cellar was handed to a young and promising director: Dan Trachtenberg, who created the superb short film Portal: No Escape. Filming quietly took place in New Orleans between October and December 2014, with a local newspaper reporting that a series of explosions were set to go off as part of the shoot in early December.
At no point during production, or in interviews with the cast afterwards, did anyone let slip that The Cellar has a giant monster somewhere in it, or that it’s any kind of sequel to Cloverfield. Does this suggest that it was made a Cloverfield sequel after the fact, or have Bad Robot been extremely successful in covering up its connections? The anonymous post on Reddit claims that The Cellar was only revived as a Cloverfield sequel after Paramount’s Insurge Division was closed down, effectively leaving the project on the shelf.
Abrams says himself that the idea for 10 Cloverfield Lane “came up a long time during production,” which does imply that Bad Robot has at some point amended The Cellar to include at least a few references to Cloverfield. Whether this was done before filming began, during the shoot or afterwards is, of course, unclear at this stage.
What is clear is that 10 Cloverfield Lane has dropped the found-footage aspect of its predecessor, and that, like Gareth Edwards’ breakthrough indie film Monsters, the city-levelling beast will serve as a backdrop for the battle of wits in John Goodman’s cellar. The shots we see in the trailer certainly imply that Trachtenberg’s made a nicely lit and well framed thriller.
If 10 Cloverfield Lane is a retro-fitted sequel, then it wouldn’t be the first time such a thing’s happened — far from it, in fact. Here are but a few examples:
American Psycho 2 (2002)
This straight-to-video “sequel” is notable for starring Mila Kunis as a college student who takes on Patrick Bateman’s mantle as a crazed serial killer. Brilliantly, Kunis didn’t even know she was in an American Psycho sequel until after shooting was completed; “When I did the second one,” she told MTV in 2005, “I didn’t know it would be American Psycho 2. It was supposed to be a different project, and it was re-edited. But, ooh… I don’t know. Bad.”
American Psycho 2 originally began life as The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, and, of course, only became an American Psycho sequel much later. The movie was critically panned, despite the shamanic presence of one William Shatner as one of Kunis’s college professors.
Lost Boys 2: The Tribe (2005)
According to a 2010 Guardian article, Lost Boys 2 began life as a surfing werewolf story by screenwriter Hans Rodionoff, simply called The Tribe. This was rejected by Warner because it was too similar to 1987’s The Lost Boys — but then someone thought, “Why not give it a rewrite and make into a Lost Boys sequel?”
“The studio was like, ‘Hey, we can just take that and turn the werewolves into vampires,” recalled director PJ Pesce. “Hans said, ‘Wait a second, in vampire mythology, vampires are not supposed to be able to cross running water; there’s a logical disconnect there if you’re gonna have surfing vampires.'”
Needless to say, the screenwriter’s concerns fell on deaf ears. There was gold in the old Lost Boys name, and The Tribe was duly pressed into service as a sequel.
“What can you do at that point?” Pesce said. “You’re the writer, you have a wife, you have a kid, you gotta pay the bills.”
Open Water 2: Adrift (2006)
The 2003 film Open Water, about a couple left stranded at sea by their scuba diving group, was an unexpectedly sizeable hit, making back nearly $55 million on its tiny $500,000 budget. In the wake of its success, a movie called Adrift emerged, which was marketed in some territories with the misleading title Open Water 2: Adrift.
It’s not necessarily a bad film, but it suffers in comparison to Open Water; it doesn’t help that the group of friends left stuck in this movie are there because of their own forgetfulness. They all leap off their expensive yacht for a swim, but forget to lower the ladder so they can get back aboard again. D’Oh.
Curse 2: The Bite (1990)
In fairness, you may not have heard of the low-budget 1987 horror film The Curse. It was actor David Keith’s directorial debut, loosely based on HP Lovecraft’s story The Colour Out Of Space, and about the worrying effect a crashed meteor has on a rural American town — madness, failed crops, that kind of thing. It’s the sort of cheap horror flick you’d have found on the bottom shelf at your local gas station in the VHS rental era, with an early role from Wil Wheaton as a surprise bonus.
The Curse‘s success led producer Ovidio G. Assonitis to hunt around for a film he could market as a sequel, and he eventually put out Curse 2: The Bite, an entirely unrelated movie with a completely different cast. There wasn’t even a meteor in it — instead, it was about a young man who turns into a monster after he’s bitten by a radioactive snake.
Other Curse sequels included Curse III: Blood Sacrifice and Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice. Both began life as different films (Panga and Catacombs, respectively). The former includes a bit of Christopher Lee and a lot of voodoo.
Troll 2 (1990)
The 1986 fantasy film Troll is largely memorable for having a central character named Harry Potter, Jr. Oh, and Frank Welker providing the voice of the titular troll. If anything, 1990 sequel Troll 2 is even more famous — largely because it’s widely regarded as the worst film of all time. A warped horror comedy with its own dream logic, Troll 2 has nothing to do with its predecessor — it has an entirely different cast and crew, for one thing — and was actually shot as a movie called Goblins before someone decided to market it as a sequel to a half-forgotten fantasy film from four years earlier.
With its crude special effects, weirdly listless performances and baffling dialogue, Troll 2‘s sheer ineptitude has given it near-mythical status among aficionados of the bizarre and the terrible. Rather than elaborate the point further, we’ll simply end with a pair of sample quotes:
“I’m the victim of a nocturnal rapture. I have to release my lowest instincts with a woman.”
“Joshua is not a little shit. He’s just very sensitive.”
10 Cloverfield Lane is out in theaters this April.