10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) is the first movie in a while that I fell in love with very quickly, so I figured why not write a review about it. However, out of respect for such a great film, if you have not seen it, stop what you’re doing and go watch it! Well…then please come back here afterward 😉
First off, I am a sucker for anything apocalyptic. So if a movie shows any hints of such a theme, I’m intrigued. I want to know what the altered world looks like, I want to see how the different characters react, I want to watch chance play out. How do the cookies crumble? Also, anything with J.J Abrams name on it.
Secondly, SPOILERS towards the end, but I’ll try not to give too much away. I’ll be analyzing character arch, plot development, the film’s pivotal moment and one large plot hole I noticed upon viewing a second time (as well as other interesting things)!
10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie about a young, independent, rebellious woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who gets into a car accident that sends her off the road one night and she proceeds to wake up later in a cell below the earth’s surface inside a well-fortified bunker, built by an aged, ex-Navy, paranoid named Howard (John Goodman), who is socially awkward and is inbred with an appreciation for strict rules and respect. This is one of those movies that felt like a book on screen to me (if not a captivating comic). I feel like, if this were a book first, the readers would be pleased with the amount of depth the movie was able to convey and how concisely it did so. Every 10 minutes felt like a new chapter, where more and more of an amazingly layered story kept unfolding before your eyes.
While I certainly had my eerie suspicions about Howard and his theory of a catastrophic, chemically-charged fallout up above from the starting gate (as would anyone who saw the trailer), the movie kept me guessing as to what was actually going on the entire time. It kept twisting in jaw-dropping ways and shocking moments that I was certainly not expecting, all while keeping the plot moving, through the very last minute of film. The most brilliant feature about this film, in my mind, is that some of your suspicions are very true, and you’ve been given ample reason to have them, you just don’t know which ones are true and why until later. There are times I wanted to turn back on my opinions, because things did not appear as they seemed many times over, and this led to much conflict and tension inside in a way that really made this movie a thrilling rollercoaster to watch!
One thing I loved about it was the tiny cast. Acting was excellent, with a special hats-off to John Goodman! His character came across the screen with such presence and mystery and the air was thick with tension any time Howard was present. He has definitely become one of my favorite movie characters, at the very least actor to watch, playing such a role so far removed from the big, furry, lovable Jame P. “Sulley” Sullivan we all adore from Monster’s Inc. If you close your eyes, you could imagine seeing a tall, purple-spotted, blue monster on screen upon opening them again. But when the familiar voice is coming out of an unpredictable Howard, it really plays with ones heart strings and leads to an interesting inward friction, especially as Howard has a very gentle and fatherly side to him and at times gives off a lovable-uncle feeling; a real, modern day Jekyll and Hyde. Each character is a complete onion of complex layers and Howard is the thickest of the three (pun fairly intended). Along with Howard, there is another bearded man in the bunker around Michelle’s age named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a very kind-hearted, small-town guy, whose introduction only helps to further confuse the viewer as to what is really going on. The characters move and develop like shifting puzzle pieces as you try to place them inside a frame, one that slowly appears or suddenly flips completely around. The movie doesn’t give you anything outside of Michelle’s perspective, so you really experience things as she does and this creates an overall great, visceral experience. Only knowing as much as she does really makes this movie what it is, an enthralling head game. Which brings me to my next thought…
[SPOILERS] I do not want to go into too much depth, as there are many pitstops I could make with this film, but I do want to highlight two parts. There is a very important moment in the film where Michelle stops questioning every single thing everyone is saying about what has happened to the living conditions above. Effectively, she has exhausted all the questions the viewer would have had and you feel cornered, along with her, to start accepting the theories presented and a life in the bunker. The specific moment Michelle gives up her stubborn resistance is when her and Emmett are talking to each other through a wall separating their sleeping quarters. This talk follows a pivotal moment where Michelle has an unsettling encounter with a woman who pleads to be let in, as Michelle herself happened to be trying to escape at the same time. The woman is panicked and displaying lesions all over her face and skin, repeating the phrase, “I’m fine,” over and over until she becomes angered at Michelle’s hesitation. It’s in this moment that your heart sinks. Just as Michelle is inches away from freedom, evidence that what Howard has been saying has been true all along slaps you in the face. The scene is gripping and intense as Michelle is left to make one of the hardest decisions in the film while both Howard and lesion-lady are screaming at her, both demanding opposites of her. Let her in! Keep her out! It’s all so well acted and climactic that there is a huge plot hole that goes overlooked, one that would have ruined the rest of the movie. In all of this panic, no one stops for moment to simply ask the lady what is really going outside and how she got her injuries. Yet, since everything has been predicated upon what Howard has been positing (along with a convinced Emmett), this encounter is the final nail in the coffin of Michelle’s disbelief. Very true to her character, she had to see it for herself, and since we are vicariously living through her, we believe when she believes, and all her objections appear to have been totally silenced.
10 Coverfield Lane is definitely worth a second watch, especially with friends who haven’t seen it (so you can laugh when their jaws drop too). A second viewing actually made me see some clues I simply missed that the movie kept dropping, regarding where things were headed. Furthermore, I was able to see some of Howard’s seemingly threatening moments in a totally different light and gave me an extra opportunity to analyze when he was Jekyll and when he was Hyde. Now knowing his true character and intent (and his own inward struggles and complexities), some of his phrases can be heard as completely ordinary and non-threatening but simply misunderstood, given the circumstances. In one specific scene, the three bunker-ridden ground-hogs are having dinner, over which Emmett begins musing about how long they might be down there and what he wished he did in his previous life. At this ongoing chatter, Howard snaps and says, “No more talking!”, while nervously rubbing his fingers into his palms, clenching his fists. The first time through, this appeared as though Howard wanted Emmett to stop because his darker motives were bubbling up inside of him, and the thought of them ever leaving the bunker began to anger him, as though he planned to keep them down there forever (which I believe is alluded to later on in the film when Howard is containing/hugging a distraught Michelle). I believe this mini-power struggle between Howard and Emmett seemed to unveiled Howard’s need for control, though Emmett hardly elicited such a display of dominance. The second time around, however, I entertained the thought that perhaps this was truly a Jekyll moment and Howard snapped simply because all of this talk about how long they might be stuck down there began to cause him anxiety, hence the nervous hands. It made a second viewing that much more enjoyable; to try spotting when Howard was just being strict, ex-Navy, paranoid, lonely Howard and when the Hyde inside him had reared his head.
[SPOILERS] It’s been a while since a movie left me wanting more like 10 Cloverfield Lane. I was wholly invested, eating up every minute of it, and am now praying for a continuation of the story! I thought this was an amazing, fresh, new take on the old sci-fi, alien invasion genre. I applaud Abrams’ creativity in introducing the enemy at the end, shattering whatever remaining thoughts you had. It was a captivating film about aliens that wasn’t about the aliens. For those of you who saw War of the Worlds (2005) there is a blatant reference involving a Molotov cocktail, where in Tom Cruise‘s case it was a grenade. While I see how a sequel could possibly pale in comparison, given the nature this genre and the real mechanism of this film being in its ambiguity, I am invested enough in the bigger story going on to want to know where Michelle goes from here and how this experience effects her in the future. Although a decent amount is implied and they could just as well not produce a sequel.
Thank you J.J. Abrams for putting out more great work! I’m a big fan.