An ordinary shopping street in small-town America, circa the 1970’s. Nothing overtly bizarre or creepy about that then, although given that this is a J.J. Abrams-directed film, you’ll forgive us for double-checking.
With a bright and sunny score tinkling away in the background, this vintage slice of Americana looks positively welcoming! We don’t trust it one bit. Drop the act Abrams and make with the weird stuff…
Spielbergian Influence: This American-as-apple-pie shot of a suburban backwater could have been lifted straight from E.T. Will the alien content be similar…?
Who’s this wholesome young scamp then? Riding his bike, the wind in his hair, not a care in the world…don’t expect it to last sonny, things are undoubtedly going to get distinctly unsettling any minute.
That’s right, any minute now, things are going to get very strange indeed. We can smell it!
Spielbergian Influence: Young male protagonist, whizzing around on his bicycle? Allow us to refer you once again to E.T …
And so it begins…a piece of chronically bad driving has a car ploughing into the front of the train causing an almighty explosion. Next thing we know, the whole train has been derailed, causing widespread mayhem.
It also seems that our precocious young hero has been filming the whole thing on his camera (a Super 8 no less…), so perhaps he knows if anything untoward has gone on. Although in fairness to him, he seems too busy dodging bits of flaming wreckage to care.
Spielbergian Influence: It looks the most breathlessly exciting scene to feature a locomotive since the opening of The Last Crusade .
It looks as though that train was carrying some fairly unusual cargo. Here we see a crate marked “US Airforce” containing something that appears to be trying to force its way out. And whatever it is, it’s powerful enough to dent steel…
Is anyone else thinking Cloverfield at this point? J.J. Abrams has stressed that the two films are completely unrelated but we’re not so sure…
Spielbergian Influence: The crate with something nasty inside reminds us of the scene in Jurassic Park when the (unseen) raptor makes its bow.
Whatever was in that crate has demanded a strong military reaction. Apparently what’s called for is some random discharging of a flamethrower and a perimeter line of baffled looking soldiers.
Meanwhile, a deeply ominous voiceover has kicked in, warning, “do not speak of this…if you do, they will find you.” Who are “they” exactly? The things in the crate? Or the people who put them in there? We don’t like the sound of this…
Spielbergian Influence: The soldiers appear to be looking at something and waiting with bated breath. It’s not unlike War Of The Worlds , where the military are instructed to approach the crash site…
It now looks as though people are being evacuated, with hordes of panic-stricken locals flooding off a series of army-operated buses. Does this mean something malign has made its presence felt in the sunny locale we spotted earlier?
And if that is the case, does that mean it will make its way across America? Or are we going to see a bunch of hardy souls attempt to make a stand?
Spielbergian Influence: Widespread panic? Sunny American paradise turned into a living nightmare? Get out of the water, folks? It’s Jaws all over again!
Jesus Christ there’s a zombie! Look, on the left-hand side of the screen. Although since noone else seems too perturbed, we’ll assume that it’s a kid in zombie make-up. In fact, this is the one element of the plot we’re fairly sure about. Basically, a group of kids are shooting their own zombie movie on a Super 8 camera when they spot something a lot more frightening than the living dead…
What do they see? Something escaping from the wreckage of the train crash. Beyond that, we’re not sure, but from the expressions on their faces, it’s probably safe to assume it’s nothing good…
Spielbergian Influence: Slack-jawed wonder at something peculiar, lingering just out of shot? It’s what Spielberg does best, from Close Encounters to Jurassic Park .
Now this is odd. Whilst the train was derailed by a car, this house appears to have just blown up of its own accord. If there were an alien craft hovering above it, or a hideous monster careering through it, we’d understand, but neither of those are anywhere to be seen.
Could it be that the town is not only under threat by the mysterious escapee, but the people who are looking for it? Is this the work of the “they” referred to in the narration? Or is it just a gas leak?
Spielbergian Influence: Hmm, there’s nothing particularly Spielbergian about a run of the mill explosion. Although in terms of pure chaos, it’s looking increasingly like a War Of The Worlds -esque scenario.
Now after a few more shots of random mayhem, we see a pair of hands reach out for each other in comfort. Confronted by something they cannot comprehend, they cling to each other in fear. Classic Spielberg staple there.
On a side-not, the whole thing is feeling increasingly reminiscent of Shyamalan’s Signs , from the sun-kissed American panorama to the father-son bond via some nasty extra-terrestrial types. If or course there are extra-terrestrials at work here…
Spielbergian Influence: As noted above, it’s a fairly common staple. Although perhaps also reminiscent of the Schindler’s List poster?
Oh, now what the blazes is happening to this poor sod? As opposed to the cacophony of explosions we’ve been treated to so far, this chap looks as though he’s being physically dragged backward by something incredibly strong.
He doesn’t look too pleased about it either, does he? So far, all the destruction has been on a grand scale, but this suggests that whatever’s causing it isn’t above turning on individuals either.
Spielbergian Influence: Jurassic Park all the way. Although we’ve got a nasty feeling whatever’s got hold of him might be far worse than a dinosaur…
Is It A Bird...?
Finally, we’re left to puzzle over an expression pitched somewhere between wonder and terror on the face of our pint-sized protagonist. He also appears to be gazing upwards, suggesting that the menace is either massive or airborne. Or both.
In either case, Abrams has got us falling for this hook, line and sinker. So long as it’s not a smoke monster causing all the trouble, and there isn’t a religious allegory in sight, we’ll be happy…
Spielbergian Influence: Illuminated faces, staring upwards in blank incomprehension…this has Close Encounters written all over it.
One More Thing
Did we just say “finally”? Well, we were wrong, as there’s one more tiny snippet of info to pore over, hidden within the logo before the film’s title-card. A bit of freeze-framing reveals a message board covered in bits of paper, many of which are messages requesting “help.”
So what sort of threat could they be facing that a note on a message board could possibly help? “Help, there’s a monster in my garden”? “Help, there are aliens bloody everywhere”? Or are these people worried about a more human menace. Again, we can’t help feeling that whatever was in that crate isn’t necessarily the same thing that is tearing the town apart. After all, if somebody went to the trouble of delivering this weird cargo, wouldn’t they want to find out where it went?
Spielbergian Influence: Nope, this is purest Abrams. A sneaky, internet-baiting tease of the highest order. Curse you J.J. CURSE YOU!!!!