March 11, 2016 / 3:14 PM / 3 years ago

J.J. Abrams harnesses element of surprise for '10 Cloverfield Lane'

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Coming off the mass marketing for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” filmmaker J.J. Abrams decided to change things up for “10 Cloverfield Lane,” a surprise follow-up to his 2008 cult disaster movie “Cloverfield.”

Producer and director J.J. Abrams presents an award during the 21st Annual Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California January 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

“No one was anticipating this movie and there was no expectation whatsoever,” Abrams told Reuters. “It’s been fun to see people react surprised at this announcement, as opposed to vaguely curious about something that’s a calendar year away.”

Until the trailer was released unexpectedly in January, no one had known of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” an unconventional strategy in Hollywood, where studios promote films months ahead of release to build anticipation and box office revenue. The movie will be out in U.S. theaters on Friday.

Abrams himself released a teaser for “The Force Awakens,” which he wrote and directed, a year before its December release. It went on to become the third-highest-grossing movie of all time.

Viacom Inc-owned Paramount Pictures’ “10 Cloverfield Lane,” produced by Abrams and directed by newcomer Dan Trachtenberg, takes place some years after the events of “Cloverfield,” in which a group of friends fight for survival as giant aliens attack Manhattan.

The new film centers on budding designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in the aftermath of a car crash. She’s locked in an underground bunker with the mysterious Howard (John Goodman), who tells her that the world outside has been invaded, and no one’s coming for her.

Michelle navigates a tense and claustrophobic sequence of events, as the tone fuses horror, thriller, comedy and science-fiction, playing with the element of surprise.

“So much of the film is non-verbal, and yet you know everything she’s thinking and feeling and she’s so resourceful,” Trachtenberg said, likening Michelle to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from “Alien.”

Made for around $10 million, the film provided Abrams with a “nice kind of balance” as he simultaneously worked on the $200 million “Star Wars” saga.

“It was wonderful to see something that was so intimate and granular,” Abrams said, adding that the smaller budget “created for greater tension, greater terror and more interesting and memorable sequences.”

If “10 Cloverfield Lane” performs well at the box office, Abrams has plans to make the “Cloverfield” series into a platform for new talent such as Trachtenberg.

Editing by Jill Serjeant and Bernadette Baum

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