10 Cloverfield Lane has been out in theaters for a little while now, but I still can’t stop thinking about it. As such, I wanted to take this time to discuss my theories on how the two Cloverfield movies connect, the implications therein, and how this makes for a brilliant new way to craft a franchise. Come inside to check it out!
In case you haven't realized, this article is going to be FILLED with all manner of spoilers. So if you haven't seen 10 Cloverfield Lane yet (which would be a damn shame), go out immediately and do so, then come back and read.
Good to go? Okay.
As I mentioned in my initial review of the film (which adequately sums up my thoughts on this incredible movie), Cloverfield is still one of my favorite movies around, and something I can watch infinitely. While Cloverfield Lane doesn't feature the giant monster that was the focus of the first movie, how these movies connect is one of my favorite reveals in the flick.
The biggest mystery in the film, is what's happening in the world above the bunker. There was always the chance that Howard (John Goodman) was lying about everything in some elaborate hoax, including the woman outside the door trying to get in. When an alien invasion, of all things, ends up being the real cause of the world's problems at in the movie's final act, it comes as quite a shock.
For big fans of Cloverfield, this was the moment we’d been waiting for. It's not the same monster, obviously, but the connection makes for an enticing idea. The first film obviously doesn't give out many answers regarding the big monster destroying the city. In fact, for the most part, it leaves us with way more questions than anything else. Regardless, when you look at the films together, along with their surrounding viral campaigns, very telling connections begin to unfold. Put your tinfoil hats on because we're diving deep!
The Background Connection
Since the film's release (and even before it), fans have been going wild with a number of theories on how the films connect to one another. The ARG campaigns for both films offered up plenty of extra backstory with unique connections. For instance, in the first film Rob is going to work for a Japanese drilling company called Tagruato. Their deep-sea drilling could potentially have been the cause of the Cloverfield monster, and many have stuck with that theory over the years.
In Cloverfield Lane, Emmett mentions that Howard used to work in the Navy and had something to do with satellites. The film's ARG/viral marketing clarified this a little more, revealing that Howard was in charge of telemetry for Bold Futura, an off-shoot company focusing on space...OWNED by Tagruato. Something is obviously up with this company, between drilling deep in the Ocean, and mention of Howard discovering "something" within his satellite work.
The film makes it clear that Howard saw something that scared him into doomsday preparations. While it initially seems like he's simply over-paranoid about things, he turns out to be right. What did Howard find that scared him so badly, and how is connected to this company?
There are a number of theories posited out there for how the film connects in a more direct way, but what stands out most to me, is the idea of a large-scale alien invasion. For me, this makes the most sense, as the events of both films take place in different locations, but share a number of connections that lead me to believe they're part of the same "story" that's going down in the world.
At one point in the film, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) asks Howard what happened to the world. Howard says he doesn't know and lists out a few ideas, casually mentioning an "alien invasion" at the end. This off hand remark doesn't seem serious at the time, and is so far out that both the characters and audiences don't give it any real credence. Funny enough, this turns out ot be the truth of the matter!
This is actually a funny little connection, that might turn out to be entirely coincidental, but stood out to me nonetheless. In the original Cloverfield when all of the characters are on the run and know there's a monster attacking, there's a moment where Hud (the cameraman) is talking about what it could be. He lists of a few things, bringing up the idea it has awoken/come from the ocean, but lastly he says maybe it comes from another planet in an off-hand remark reminiscent of Howard's. Once again the idea doesn't seem to be taken seriously...but there's more to it than coincidental comments.
Michelle encounters a dog-esque worm alien in Cloverfield Lane, who was previously aboard a spaceship/flying alien thing. While these don't share much, visually, with the Cloverfield monsters there are some similarities I couldn't help but notice. What stood out most to me were the sounds they made. The roars and subtle noises made by the aliens Michelle encounters are nearly the same we hear from the monsters in the first film. It's a fact that became even more apparent after re-watching Cloverfield recently.
While this may seem like a small thing, it's a strong indication that these monsters have an overall connection and are part of the same world-ending event. Think of it as some sort of shared "language" and all the implications that go with it. Beyond that, there are SOME physical similarities to take into account as well. All the monsters in both films share a beak-like mouth and spindly tentacle-esque appendages.
Beyond that, the idea of "biological warfare" plays into both films quite a bit, though the implications of it play a far larger role in Lane. Within Lane it's the reason they're forced to stay trapped underground and we saw the evidence of its effects on one unfortunate bystander. Hell, Michelle's big escape plan hinges on her crafting a suit to survive whatever is out there.
While the original Cloverfield doesn't put the focus of the story on biological attacks, they're no less present or dangerous. Rather than a gas cloud being sprayed about, humans are more directly infected by the smaller alien creatures that 'fall off' the main monster. These little arachnids can bite a person and cause some serious damage, though we aren't privy to that until later in the film when Marlena quite literally explodes. It's a shocking scene, but the moments leading up to it give us a clear indication that it's a widespread problem. The military personnel begin screaming about her being infected, so it's a problem they've been dealing with that night on top of everything else.
Taking all of this into consideration a bigger picture regarding an invasion can be seen. Howard himself references the idea a few times, even remarking on the tactical nature of the attacks. He remarks that shock and awe would be the first major step for any attacking force; hitting the major population centers first to take out as many as possible initially. In this context, the original Cloverfield monster seems like exactly the perfect thing for that. It attacks one of the largest cities in the world, New York, a major hub for commerce and culture...In short, it's the exact type of location Howard describes as being hit first.
Imagine if the big monster from Cloverfield was only the initial attack heralding the start of a full scale invasion. Since our perspective in the film is purposefully kept narrow, who's to say more monsters of similar size weren't attacking other major cities across the globe simultaneously? Michelle, Howard, and Emmett being within the bunker for an unknown amount of time could have missed the first wave of the invasion (the big monster), and thus what Michelle encounters at the end are the next step in a bigger war machine.
The military in the first film use terms like “under attack” and even “whatever it is, it’s winning” making it feel like there’s something larger at stake. Couple that with the survivors/fighters Michelle races off to find at the end of Lane and it’s clear the world has changed due to these events, (which are connected). I know not everyone subscribes to this idea of the films being within the same world, instead looking at them as parallel universes. The primary reason being they’re using real-world time differences to connect the films. The idea here is that the same amount of time that’s passed between the film’s releases, is also the difference between events within that universe.
Films, however, can take liberties with time, and there have been plenty of sequels separated by real-world years that canonically take place within days/moments from each other. I get why many feel this way and make that connection, but I feel there are too many direct links to the films and the background story for such to be the case.
A New Kind of Shared-Universe
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this and the connections, is how the filmmakers and studios are crafting an entirely different type of shared universe. A franchise in which vastly different genres of films can exist against this backdrop of a larger alien invasion. It's an evolution of the concept that excites me in a lot of ways.
I mean, Marvel has done a great job with their shared universe, but at the end of the day (for the most part), all of the Marvel movies are still essentially comic book films. They have a hero, a bad guy to fight, and there are some general connections that lead to a larger story. One of my main complaints in the last couple years have been how cookie cutter they've all felt (with some exceptions), but what Cloverfield is doing changes the game entirely.
Rather than putting the focus on the bigger picture, 10 Cloverfield Lane forges its own story within an entirely different genre, and keeps the connecting elements in the background. This idea can apply itself to virtually anything. Imagine a comedy film that does it's own thing, while aliens begin to invade the world. You could have a war film that would tie directly into the invasion, a full on horror movie where characters have to evade a serial killer even as aliens invade...the possibilities are endless. In this way, they can keep the the franchise going strong without fear of growing stale. Let's face it, a bunch of movies centered on an alien invasion would get old pretty quick. Using it as a background, however, lets them tell unique stories every single time.
Best of all, even if I'm totally wrong in my above theory I've laid out...It's STILL brilliant! It doesn't change they way in which they've crafted this shared universe, and we're left with two amazing and independent films. Perhaps that's the true genius of their plan; even if one of their Cloverfield movies doesn't pan out or perform well, the connections aren't overt enough to impact the overall franchise/plan. Beyond good movies, Cloverfield Lane showed me how studios can craft new, broader stories, and that's just as awesome.
Obviously this isn’t a perfect theory, and there are some contradictory things that throw it in flux. For one, the filmmakers originally revealed that the monster DID come from the Atlantic ocean, though there’s no exact explanation as to why or how it came to attack the city.
This doesn’t seem to work as well with the alien invasion theory I’m proposed here...or does it? It wouldn’t be the first time an invasion story had aliens come from seemingly Terran locations. War of the Worlds had aliens plant devices below the Earth in advance of their forces arriving and Pacific Rim used the idea of aliens opening portals in the ocean to send creatures through. Perhaps, this is the case in Cloverfield’s universe. To prepare for a larger invasion, the aliens planted the larger monster deep in the ocean, to “awaken” at a specific time.
Then there is the time issue I briefly mentioned earlier. If the films to follow each other chronologically, it would seem to throw things out of whack. Lane makes no mention of the original monster, which is something you’d think the characters would mention if they’re huddled in a bunker fearing another attack (some eight years later). Regardless, I still think the timing is meant to line up, and not be taken so literally. Film is a fluid medium in this way, which can allow stories like this to work regardless of timeline/framing.
I know it’s not an airtight theory, but it’s the one that seems most plausible to me, with a great deal of future storytelling applications. I could be totally and completely off base, but I have a good feeling about this one. There's a lot of different ways these things can shake out and I'm eager to see what happens next for Cloverfield. While we wait for more answers, I'd love to hear YOUR ideas on how the films connect. Be sure to hit me up with your theories in the comments below!