On Friday, my first free day after my MFA graduation, my friend Jordan and I celebrated by going to a concert in downtown Seattle. The show was advertised for 8 p.m., but when we arrived we learned that the band we’d come to see — Shearwater — would not take the stage until 11 p.m.

What to do for three hours?

So we walked to the nearest cineplex and found that we were just in time to see 10 Cloverfield Lane. I really had not seen this coming. What a surprisingly satisfying twist for my evening.

And that’s what I kept thinking to myself through 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s various turns: “I really had not seen that coming. What a surprisingly satisfying twist!

(L-R) John Goodman as Howard, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, and John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, by Paramount Pictures
(L-R) John Goodman as Howard, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, and John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, by Paramount Pictures

The film, and all kinds of reviews, have been out for a while. So, rather than deliver a review that follows the formula you can get elsewhere — the plot summary detailing how a young woman gets trapped in a survival bunker with a dopey young dude and an unstable tyrant; the origin story of Cloverfield; the usual praise for franchise genius J.J. Abrams, the uncanny correlations with the recent Oscar favorite Room — I decided to do something different. I asked this website’s most dedicated supporters if they had any questions.

And lo… they did.

So here’s an unconventional report on 10 Cloverfield Lane. Thanks to Daniel Melvill Jones, Evan Cogswell, Laure Hittle, and Joshua Wilson for the question:

Is this movie just a flash in the pan?

A surprise everyone will talk about in March and will forget about come July?

Is it worth paying attention to? Because that trailer was kinda intriguing…

I think it’s going to rate high on my list all through the year, and Dan Trachtenberg has immediately become a director worth watching.

There is so much to love about 10 Cloverfield Lane: The references to Psycho, Alien, and Die Hard. The brilliantly strident and suspenseful score (which the Filmspotting guys rightly highlight as Herrmann-esque). The editing, which is edgy and efficient. The Chinese puzzle box of the film’s deceptively simple underground bunker environments. The jump-scares. The sound effects — especially the door to Michelle’s cell, the creak of which seems to have been synthesized from the sound of a crowbar to the skull and a woman’s final scream.

And three cheers for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, delivering brilliantly in the lead role she’s long deserved. I’ve wanted to see her take a big swing for the fences, and here she takes it, and the results are glorious. 10 Cloverfield Lane openly nominates her to be our next Sigourney Weaver, and I find no reason to protest.

Which variety of M&Ms goes best with this film?

M&Ms with Pretzels.

Because the tension in this movie, which keeps changing as you assess and reassess what you believe to be true about the situation, will tie your nerves into pretzels. Thus, it’s satisfying to crush bits of pretzel between your teeth.

John Goodman as Howard in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE; by Paramount Pictures
John Goodman as Howard in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE; by Paramount Pictures

I’m assuming that this is a sequel — or a prequel — to Cloverfield. Is it?

That is a very good question. I’m glad that that answer turns out to be what it is. But I don’t want to say much more than that.

Do I need to see the first one before seeing this one?

Cloverfield? Look, when it came out I wasn’t even aloud to go to the theatre. I just remember lots of talk about the shaky cam and the post 9-11 shock. So what’s the big deal?

Full disclosure: I’ve never seen Cloverfield. I know it’s a monster movie that works like a mash-up of Godzilla and War of the Worlds. The reviews persuaded me not to make it a priority while it was in theaters. Perhaps there are things about this film I don’t understand because of that… but for what it’s worth, I didn’t perceive any problem. This experience works as a standalone film — a solidly satisfying time at the movies.

Is this a monster movie?

Oh, yeah. But not in the way you’re thinking.

I’ve grown to enjoy John Goodman thanks to his extended partnership with the Coens.
His presence here has me intrigued. Should I be?

Definitely. The great John Goodman is back in the kind of role he’s had far too rarely since Barton Fink. He makes Howard utterly unpredictable, unreadable, hilarious, and sometimes terrifying. I wouldn’t mind seeing him remembered next award season.

What did the folks at 12 Cloverfield Lane think during the events of this film?

A very good question. For most of the movie, though, you’ll be wondering: Are there any folks at 12 Cloverfield Lane? Is there anybody out there at all?

If there is anybody next door, I suspect that they spend the film’s period of time wondering “What are all those strange noises?” and “Why does it sound like John Goodman’s voice is roaring up from the earth?”

But I would hope that they were too busy reading and discussing Through a Screen Darkly to notice.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

Jeffrey, why are you spending your valuable time on (what seems to be) a monster flick?
From the hand of J. J. Abrams no less.
Don’t you (and we) have better things to do? Can this benefit us at all?

Well, it gave Jordan and me a high-spirited time at the movies. We laughed. We panicked. We held our breath. We jumped. We cheered. We saw a smart hero thinking her way out of a trap. We saw a villain who was, in part, sympathetic. We saw heroic acts of selfless courage. We saw an excellent display of cinematic skills. We saw a demonstration of movie literacy. And we experienced a screenplay that always kept us guessing. That’s more than enough for me.

My three favourite film makers are Wes Anderson, Terrence Malick, and the Coens.
Do you see their hands on the influence of this flick? Whose influence do you see?

I see a lot of Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher, Edgar Wright, and Steven Spielberg.

Winstead seems to be wearing a tight tank top for most of the film.
How does this film treat women, in an age of Wonder Woman costumes
vs Mad Max’s de-objectified harem?

I think she’s dressed fairly sensibly, considering her circumstances. The costume emphasizes her vulnerability, which makes her courageous actions that much more arresting. Also, I think the costume ends up strengthening the film’s homage to Sigourney Weaver in Alien.

Did you like it so much just because your expectations were lower than, say, Hail, Caesar!?

Well, my expectations on this one weren’t very high or very low — I didn’t know what to expect. That worked in my favor, I think.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

Is this a sign of new life for the mainstream post-apocalyptic film?

Is there any hope for the future of mainstream film?
(All my friends went to see Batman v. Superman and I’m kinda depressed about this.)

There’s all kinds of hope for commercial cinema — post-apocalyptic films and otherwise!

I think we’re in a pretty good place, actually. Sure, there are the juveniles who waste our time like they waste their filmmaking resources — like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder. But there are a lot of wild imaginations who are getting good chances to show us how it’s done: Edgar Wright and Drew Goddard, for example. They make brilliant, satisfying, apocalyptic movies with heavy joke density, genre innovations, and sharp writing.

I wish more Americans would discover Stephen “Kung Fu Hustle” Chow: His new movie The Mermaid is the most satisfying fantasy film, action film, and comedy I’ve seen so far this year. There’s no reason for him not to be hugely popular. It’s just that Sony blew it and didn’t distribute his movie.

I hear you’ve been doing some new fiction writing.
If this were your story, what chapter would you add?
What twist would you throw in? Which character would you most like to borrow?

I can’t speculate much without dropping spoilers about this movie, so let’s just say that I would love to pick up where 10 Cloverfield Lane leaves off and write the next installment. There’s so much potential for this to become an intriguing franchise in which the episodes are only loosely connected, and each chapter tries to outdo the last by confounding our expectations.

There will be a lot of talk among moviegoers about whether or not this film’s finale really works. The way Trachtenberg sets everything up, the movie could go in any of a number of strange directions. Lucky for us, he and and his team of writers (which includes Damien Chazelle, who wrote and directed Whiplash) drive this thing headlong into the most absurdly hilarious direction available. I was laughing out loud in giddy delight.

Don’t let anybody spoil this movie’s twists for you. In retrospect, I have to salute whoever designed the trailer, which gives away surprisingly little of the film’s grand scheme. I’m grateful to have walked in knowing next to nothing about the story. It was one of those rare pleasures of discovering one smart surprise after another.

Oh, by the way… after the movie we went back to see Shearwater.

Shearwater, live at the Crocodile, on Friday, March 25.
Shearwater, live at the Crocodile, on Friday, March 25.

And the surprises kept coming. When the band came back, after a glorious show, to play an encore, lead singer Jonathan Meiburg said, “Seattle, you have options. You can go home and sleep, cuz it’s been a long day … Or you can stay and listen to us perform the entirety of David Bowie’s album Lodger.

And he wasn’t kidding.

So yeah, I’d say that I had pretty fantastic graduation party.

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