My Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Going into 10 Cloverfield Lane, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect since the trailers for the film were very minimal and I tried not to read anything about the story beforehand. All I knew was that the plot revolved around a young woman named Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Windstead) who gets into a car accident and wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker owned by the eerie Howard Stambler (played by John Goodman), who informs her that something terrible has happen outside while she was unconscious.
With a set up like this, I must admit I was hesitant to see the movie since I don’t like being freaked out for the sake of being freaked out and typically avoid horror movies (especially the kind of horror movies that are intended to scare you and don’t really have much of a plot.) With that said, I’m glad that I went since 10 Cloverfield Laneisn’t a horror film as much as a creepy suspense film. It certainly creeped me out a bit, but the plot, acting, and directing were all so well done that I left being thoroughly impressed (with the exception of the ending). If you haven’t yet seen the film, but would like to, I highly recommend that you stop reading here. The best way to experience 10 Cloverfield Lane is to go in without knowing anything more than the basic premise since part of the fun is trying to figure out what is going on and who you can trust.
One of the things that makes 10 Cloverfield Lane such a powerful film is that it is so focused. We spend nearly the entire movie inside of Howard’s bunker with only the three main characters. There is some action, but for the most part, the film relies on suspense to keep the audience’s attention and does a great job of it. John Goodman’s character Howard was terrifying throughout the film. You can tell immediately that there is something wrong with him, but it’s hard to determine just how crazy he is. Ironically, Howard ends up being right about everything that is going on outside despite the fact that Michelle and Emmett (played by John Gallagher, Jr.) realize that he is a murderer and kidnapper with severe mental problems. I felt like the writers were trying to say that even if someone is right about things doesn’t necessarily make them trustworthy or a good person. When you think about it, only someone who is a bit off would spend the time and money to build a doomsday bunker. Just because Howard was right doesn’t mean he isn’t deranged.
I think it was an excellent choice by the filmmakers to not go over the top with the violence and to keep the most disturbing scenes in the film off-screen. There was certainly some bloody and gruesome scenes in 10 Cloverfield Lane, but nowhere near the amount in a typical, modern horror film. When something horrible is left to the audience’s imagination, I believe that it is amplified even more. Like the saying goes, “kill a character off screen and they die a thousand deaths.” This was definitely true of Brittany, who was captured (and probably murdered) by Howard before the start of the film. Thinking about what she went through was by far the creepiest element of the movie for me and really made me understand why Emmett and Michelle were willing to go through so much to try and escape.
The filmmakers also did a great job of misdirecting the audience throughout. For example, when it seemed like Michelle was going to escape after stealing the keys, she ends up not wanting to leave when she sees the chemical burns on the neighbor lady’s face. All these misdirects made it harder to tell whether Howard was really evil or not and even made me question Emmett up until his death. I was convinced for a little while that Emmett was in on Howard’s evil plan or just so simple that he could be manipulated by Howard to do anything.
One thing that I wished we knew more about was Michelle’s recent past. Why she left her boyfriend, what kind of life she led, etc. The bulk of the information we get about her character is through her attitude towards Howard and Emmett while inside the bunker, which I guess is all we really need to appreciate her character arc. I just thought it was an interesting choice for the filmmakers to tell us more about Emmett than about Michelle. I did love the way in which the situation in the bunker mirrored the childhood that Michelle described. Her father was scary and abusive, but she was too meek to protect herself so her brother would have to come to her rescue.
Howard is obviously the stand-in for Michelle’s father since he is literally the one in control within the bunker as it is in his yard. Emmett is the stand-in for Michelle’s brother as he helps make her feel calm in such a troubling predicament and even performs the ultimate sacrifice for her in order to allow her a chance to escape. Emmett’s sacrifice also seemed to spur Michelle into finally taking a stand and becoming a woman by defeating Howard and escaping the bunker. As shown in the word-guessing game, Howard saw Michelle as a little girl to be protected and controlled, which probably isn’t too far from how she viewed herself. In the end, her character completed its full arc and she was able to take charge of the situation and rely on herself.
As far as the issues I had with the film, they were all clumped at the end. The scene in which Michelle finally escapes by breaking the lock in the air filtration room using dust-off was super ridiculous as I have frozen things with dust-off before and know firsthand that it can’t chill a padlock to the point of breaking it. I didn’t like that Michelle had to rely on Howard’s story since for all she knew his entire life-story had been a lie. On top of this, the fact that Howard would design the room with the air filtration system to be inaccessible to himself seemed kind of ridiculous. Maybe this was the only way for him to construct the bunker for whatever reason, but for Michelle to have to crawl through the vents in order to make it to the room seemed a little silly. Until she actually made it outside, I thought that perhaps the reason for this was because there was no real threat outside and Howard was just using the disaster as an excuse to kidnap people, but that turned out to be false.
Which brings me to the section that really damaged the overall brilliance of this movie: the final ten minutes or so. After escaping the bunker, Michelle spots an alien ship in the distance, which she then proceeds to battle and blow up with a Molotov cocktail. My biggest issue with this ending was that it really seemed to go against the tone of the other 90% of the film. Also, I could see Michelle gathering up the courage to fight and escape from Howard, but not to accept the existence of aliens and blow up a massive ship with a bottle of alcohol. It seemed like the end of the movie was an attempt by the filmmakers to fuse together the main storyline (which was adapted from a screenplay called The Cellar) with the Cloverfield part of the story. Personally, I don’t think it was necessary to really make this a Cloverfield film at all, but if the filmmakers wanted to take this route, they should have ended the movie with Michelle getting out and seeing the alien ship above the cornfield. This would have introduced the aliens and shown that Howard was right, but wouldn’t have created a disconnect.
Whether you are a fan of horror films or not, I really recommend going to see 10 Cloverfield Lane in theatres. It was a smart, well-crafted film with only a few issues which were all packed on at the end. The acting was terrific and totally changed my view of John Goodman, who I remember most as Rosanne’s husband. I think the Cloverfield tie-in was unnecessary, but not something that ruined the film. I was extremely impressed with the level of directing skill that Dan Trachtenberg displayed seeing as this was his first film. I’ll be on the lookout for more of his movies in the future. Even though 10 Cloverfield Lane was super creepy, I would actually consider buying it on DVD out of sheer respect for the mystery and suspense that the filmmakers were able to create.