10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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“After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.” — IMDb

If you go into 10 Cloverfield Lane expecting a direct sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield, you’ll be disappointed (and probably a little confused). It’s meant to be a sort of “blood relative” — it’s been implied that the movies exist in the same alternate universe, but they aren’t meant to be directly connected in the sense that there are the same characters, the same monsters, etc. I think it’s an interesting concept on its own — that there could be movies that have a similar feel and a similar basic theme, enough to be related but not a proper prequel/sequel relationship. That being said, it’s a fantastic movie — suspenseful, dark, chilling, and invigorating — so just jump in with both feet!

10 Cloverfield Lane was adapted from a spec script titled The Cellar, written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken. It was included in The Tracking Board‘s 2012 “The Hit List”, a list of spec scripts that have particularly impressed its voting members. It was bought by Paramount Pictures that same year and commenced development under both Insurge Pictures (Paramount’s specialty label for micro-budget projects) and Bad Robot Productions (owned by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk). From my understanding, the original script of The Cellar was changed a decent amount — in Campbell and Stuecken’s version there was no alien attack, and the ending in general had a much different, more helpless feel to it. I have to say just based on that info I like this interpretation quite a bit better.

The basic plot has Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) getting into a car accident as she rushes off after an argument with her fiancé. When she wakes up, she’s chained in an underground bunker with her captor, Howard (John Goodman), and another prisoner, Emmett (John Gallager Jr.). She is told by both men that there has been some kind of attack and that the air outside is unbreathable, so they must stay in the bunker that Howard has been prepping for years. Michelle starts to gather clues to indicate not only that Howard may be lying, but that they may not have been his first prisoners… but when she escapes, the outside world isn’t too friendly.

** SPOILERS! **

This movie is great because it’s not your typical horror film. It’s scary in much more subtle ways. Michelle’s car accident is pretty epic, and when she wakes up chained up in this concrete bunker, you immediately start to feel panicked and claustrophobic along with her. John Goodman — who I loved so much as Dan in Roseanne — is kind of scarily good at being this intimidating, powerful force. He’s the classic abuser, really. He can switch from being kind and making an effort to connect when it suits him to being short and nasty on a dime — you never know what kind of response you’re going to get, and his reactions are often out of proportion with what’s going on. He takes any hint of complaint or questioning as a personal attack, and repeatedly demands that Michelle and Emmett be grateful for all he’s done for them. He speaks for Michelle on more than one occasion, particularly when he tells Emmett to stop joking around and that she doesn’t think it’s funny. He lies and covers up those lies effortlessly, always trying to make himself into the good guy, into the under-appreciated one, not least of all when he admits to crashing into Michelle’s car on purpose, but insists that he did it to save her. It’s terrifying, to say the least, to imagine waking up to such an unstable captor.

It also doesn’t really let you figure out what exactly is going on for, well, most of the movie. You initially are convinced that Howard is some kind of psychotic abductor, clearly, with Michelle restrained in an empty room… but then you meet Emmett, who is all too happy to be there. When you hear about the apparently inhabitable world outside, you’re wary… but then, as Michelle tries to escape, a woman covered in skin lesions pounds on the door, desperate to be let inside and saved, before collapsing. The whole movie is very back and forth, giving you evidence of one side but then countering that evidence with a reasonable explanation. It’s disorienting to not be sure what is happening or who to be suspicious of.

The movie almost starts to take a happy turn at one point — showing the three of them co-existing happily, lounging on the couch reading, having dinner together — but then Howard discovers some of his tools missing and questions them, threatening them with a large barrel of perchloric acid. We, again, are reminded of just how short Howard’s temper is and how disproportionately he is capable of reacting as he accepts Emmett’s apology and then suddenly, shockingly, shooting him on the spot. I’m pretty sure both my husband and I jumped out of our seats in that moment — both a fantastic sudden scare but also a moment that inspires a lump in your throat as you feel the intense fear that Michelle must be feeling in that moment.

The whole escaping process is pretty awesome chaos, with Howard growling at Michelle as he tries to catch her and keep her secluded in his bunker. Again, more with the back and forth as she gets outside and hears birds chirping and for a moment we think that everything worked out, she got loose AND the world is perfectly fine… but then we see a huge alien craft in the distance (which is awesomely terrifying). Michelle fights her way out of yet another intense situation and as she leaves she’s faced with the option to either go north to wait out the disaster or head to Houston where they are in need of troops to fight… and she makes the turn to Houston. I know there were lots of complaints about the ending seeming disjointed and random in comparison with the rest of the movie, but I like the idea of it adding to her character, and adding to her struggle — she may have escaped her captor, her abuser, but that doesn’t mean the world outside of that hell is all roses and unicorns. They spent a small chunk of time elaborating on Michelle’s inclination to run when things get tough, to disengage… and I think the ending was a great way of showing her finding her strength, knowing what kinds of dangers await her in Houston but making that choice anyway to stand up and fight. I thought it was powerful, and, of course, the alien presence exists as a tie-in to the whole Cloverfield universe.

Ultimately, a great, on-the-edge-of-your-seat film.

Rating: 7.5/10 | Director: Dan Trachtenberg | Writer: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle | Music: Bear McCreary | Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

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