Why Music Was Crucial in ’10 Cloverfield Lane’

Travis Newton
Movies Horror
Movies Horror

10 Cloverfield Lane is a fantastic and very intense little film. The movie contains plenty of mystery concerning its plot, especially when it comes to the motives of John Goodman’s character Howard. As the film unravels and reveals itself, audiences are treated to a complex and intimate story that pays off wonderfully. One crucial element of the film that helps carry everything along is the film’s excellent music, composed by genre great Bear McCreary. [Andrew Hawkins]

To put it mildly, McCreary is prolific. It boggles my mind how much he’s done and how much he always has on his plate. Currently, he’s doing The Walking Dead, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Outlander, Black Sails, Damien — and that’s just his TV work. In film, he just did scores for The Boy, The Forest, and now 10 Cloverfield Lane. This is his first collaboration with Bad Robot, who have frequently used Michael Giacchino (another prolific composer) in their past films and television. [Travis Newton]

10-cloverfield-lane-image-1 copy

How does the score fit the movie?

That’s one question I can’t fully answer without spoiling some of the fun. I will say, however, that much like the film’s cinematography and sound mix, the score feels heightened or exaggerated at times. I don’t think that’s a negative — it serves as a reminder that even though you’re watching a very contained story, the movie aspires to something . . . different.

I apologize if that sounds vague, but I want to keep parts of this film under wraps for those who haven’t seen it. McCreary’s score helps keep the film consistent in terms of tone. You don’t expect a movie set in a tiny fallout shelter to have such a grandiose and melodic score, but when you’re watching the end credits and the main theme has evolved into something much more powerful, it’ll all make sense. [Travis Newton]

The way the score carries the film in certain scenes can definitely come across as forced. At times, the music is dramatic and full of energy when what we’re seeing on screen may feel static, but the score drives the film’s sense of urgency and tension for what’s actually going on. The way 10 Cloverfield Lane reveals itself is very structured and the narrative really holds back until the third act. That’s what makes the soundtrack so effective. While Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, Michelle, is trying to figure out what the hell is going on, McCreary’s score keeps the momentum going. It’s a key element to the narrative and without it the film would be stale. [Andrew Hawkins]

How was it composed?

One of the things I love about McCreary is that he’s not shy with unconventional instruments. I grew up in concert bands and orchestras, and with every new McCreary score I anticipate hearing some cool instrument I never knew existed. In 10 Cloverfield Lane, you’ll hear two unusual instruments quite frequently in the score.

Michelle’s theme is often played on the yaylı tambur, a Turkish instrument that looks like a skinny banjo, but is played with a bow. It’s one of the signature sounds of the score, giving it an off-kilter, otherworldly feel. McCreary also makes use of a huge, metallic stringed instrument called the Blaster Beam, which was used by Jerry Goldsmith in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. [Travis Newton]


Reportedly Bear McCreary knew abut this opportunity at least two years ago, giving him plenty of time to get his ideas together. After meetings with J.J. Abrams, he put together multiple performing ensembles, including a 90 member traditional orchestra, a 45 piece string section, 30 cello performers with eight members on bass, and he commissioned the work of The Calder Quartet (Da Vinci’s Demons), too.

The classical influence used in the score gives the music a feeling of timelessness, and that use of the Blaster Beam worked wonderfully to add in a real presence of synth that seems almost alien at times. [Andrew Hawkins]

What does it remind us of?

The film’s nearly wordless opening sequence is very evocative of Hitchcock’s Psycho, recalling the sequence in which the ill-fated Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) drives out of Phoenix with the suitcase full of stolen money. Here, McCreary strongly establishes Michelle’s theme, building a cue around it that would’ve made Bernard Herrmann (composer of Psycho and Vertigo) proud.

Composer Danny Elfman also found inspiration in Herrmann’s work, so it’s not a surprise that some of the later cues in 10 Cloverfield Lane sound like an Elfman score. They don’t have the huge, soaring choral parts that are so characteristic of Elfman, but the melodies and their underlying accompaniment wouldn’t be out of place in an Elfman-scored sci-fi film. [Travis Newton]

Michelle’s theme really sticks in your head after watching the film and listening to the soundtrack. It really is one of the most memorable pieces of music in recent memory, and it’s simplicity is definitely what helps. Too often modern scores are so technically complex that audiences leave the theater trying to recall a key piece of music only to be left sifting through a wall of audio that might as well be white noise.

Bear McCreary’s work here is effective, and his more subtle movements in this score are very well composed. Some of the softer and more ambient work almost resembles Angelo Badalamenti, and the stronger segments bear resemblance to Howard Shore. [Andrew Hawkins]


What does the score sound like?

There are a ton of orchestral elements to this soundtrack that work to give the listener a feeling of mystery and tension. Swelling string movements, heavy and deep bass rhythms and the occasional instrumental stinger all work to build a sense of tension and ominous mystery. This is a very provocative score that gets under your skin and the recurring melody that we are introduced to in the track “Michelle” becomes a theme that winds up being very memorable. [Andrew Hawkins]

Speaking of themes, McCreary is responsible for the creation of a handful of truly great ones, and we can add Michelle’s theme to that. Howard has his own theme as well, and there’s a repeating motif that symbolizes mystery. (It wouldn’t be a Bad Robot film without that, now would it?) If you want to know more about these themes, take a look at McCreary’s website — his blog is a treasure trove. [Travis Newton]

Is it worth listening to by itself?

The score is absolutely worth picking up. The music is fantastic and filled with feeling, and the production quality is excellent. While the repetition of the film’s main theme can be off-putting, the album as a whole makes for a great listening experience. It’s a mood setter that works well in the background, but hearing it after watching the film is a great way to revisit key moments of the plot. Some definite standout tracks are “Michelle”, “Howard” and “Up Above”. [Andrew Hawkins]

I’m in complete agreement — if you like movie scores, this is one for your collection. It’s not exactly easy listening, but it’s damn good, and I think could be remembered as one of the best genre scores of 2016. In addition to the tracks you recommended, I’ll throw in “Two Stories”, “The New Michelle”, and “10 Cloverfield Lane”. [Travis Newton]

Travis Newton
Travis Newton is a Fan Contributor at Fandom. He began writing about movies and TV for CHUD.com in 2012, and co-hosts The Drew Reviews Podcast with Fandom Entertainment Editor Drew Dietsch. He’s partial to horror movies, action games, and Irish Breakfast tea.
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