One of the surprise hits of 2016 has been “10 Cloverfield Lane,” the “spiritual sequel” to the 2008 found-footage movie “Cloverfield,” which followed a group of New Yorkers during an alien attack.
In “Lane,” producer J.J. Abrams (also behind the original) and director Daniel Trachtenberg create a story that has the feel of a thrilling sci-fi movie, but for different reasons than “Cloverfield.”
In this story, we follow Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) after she has been in a car accident. She’s now in an underground bunker being taken care of by Howard (John Goodman), who informs her that an attack has happened on the planet and that the air outside is no longer breathable.
This leads to a trippy series of mind games and thrills that suggest, as the movie’s tagline says, “Monsters come in many forms.”
For the movie’s Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD release on Tuesday, Business Insider talked to Trachtenberg about the evolution of its thrilling ending.
Warning: spoilers for the ending of “10 Cloverfield Lane” below.
1. The ending was originally less hopeful.
Before Trachtenberg came on to direct the movie, the spec script was titled “The Cellar” and concluded with Michelle escaping the bunker, realizing the air is fine, and traveling to Chicago. There it’s revealed that the city is in rubble.
“I never read the spec script but from what I’ve been told, it’s like the city is on fire or something,” Trachtenberg said. “But the first script I read, there was an alien attack and she still had to do more to survive.”
2. At one time, the ending was set in the daytime and there were more aliens Michelle had to fight.
When J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company bought the script and attached Trachtenberg to direct, they began making tweaks to “The Cellar” script. For a while, the ending was set during the day, and there were a few other differences from what we see in the final cut.
“Actually a couple of creatures [attack Michelle], not just one. She sees a creature in the distance as opposed to seeing a ship, little changes like that.”
The scene was changed to night to build up the scares, but taking out the second alien wasn’t from the brain trust of Abrams, Trachtenberg, and their team…
3. Here’s how the film’s one test screening changed the ending.
Michelle’s confrontation with two aliens was shown to the only test-screening audience for the film. The biggest takeaway was that people could only take so much.
“The ending we shot was longer,” Trachtenberg said. “It had an extra creature attack in it and the test audience said it was too much. They were exhausted. So that was the main impact that the test audience had on it.”
4. Ditching the guy baggage.
- Paramount Pictures
After vanquishing the aliens, in one version of the script, Michelle’s fiancé (who she leaves in the beginning of the movie) resurfaces for the final scene. But before shooting, the filmmakers made a choice that redefined the Michelle character.
“The first script I read was all about her fiancé,” he said. “At the end she gets text messages from the guy, he’s alive and at this place, but the safety zone is in another place, so there was a decision of if she should save the guy or not. But that evolved into the final scenes that are in the movie now: less about the guy and more about her. That was a big step we took to make it a stronger ending, remove the distraction of this character we never meet.”
5. Is the ending about domestic abuse?
Critics were mostly positive about the movie, while general audiences were mixed about the sudden shift in the ending from thriller-in-bunker to alien survival.
But a few critics saw the ending as an extension of what the entire movie is about: domestic violence. As The Verge’s Tasha Robinson pointed out, Howard is a “classic abuser” to such a degree that “his actions run down a straight checklist of common tactics and warning signs.” Robinson sees the ending as driving home the abuse metaphor: “For victims of domestic abuse, just getting out of the house doesn’t immediately solve all their problems,” she wrote.
Trachtenberg said the topic of domestic abuse was something they certainly discussed when making the movie.
“In Mary’s and my wildest dreams, did we ever think people would pick up on that kind of thing? It’s definitely gratifying that people have,” he said. “It wasn’t like, ‘This is about domestic abuse so write this and that and the other,’ it didn’t evolve like that. But certainly Mary and I would talk about her character having a backstory that we never see, and I talked to John about how his character comes across.”
“I think it’s great that some people are reading the movie not just looking at its surface,” Trachtenberg said.