“Monsters Come In Many Forms“.
This tagline is chosen for its’ ambiguous take on the expectations people will have for this film. The beauty of this film is that the expectation of extra-terrestrial activity takes a back seat, and 10 Cloverfield Lane bares virtually no resemblance, stylistically or narratively, to its’ predecessor, Cloverfield (2008).
This film should be approached as a ‘sister’ or ‘blood relative’ of Cloverfield, rather than a direct sequel. There are no signs of a handheld camera, or even the reveal of an alien until the films closing scenes, and only then does it become the Cloverfield movie people were expecting. Yet this is also the films’ downfall.
No, the monster that is referred to is not otherworldly, nor anything more than a human man portrayed expertly by John Goodman. But before I delve into Goodman’s expertise, let’s go back to the beginning.
10 Cloverfield Lane begins with our protagonist, Michelle, portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Final Destination 3, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World), leaving her fiancee’s home, and we assume, her fiancée. She packs her things in her car and drives away. On her journey, she is distracted by the multiple calls from assumed now ex-fiancee Ben, until a truck collision sends Michelle and her car hurtling through the air and off the road.
Queue title sequence. Sandwiched between the thunderous sound of scraping metal upon screeching metal, the muffled cries of shock from our leading lady, and aggressive thumps as the car rolls over and over, comes the deafening silence of each opening credit, leading up to the title, as ’10’ and ‘lane’ appear out of the word ‘Cloverfield’.
The opening credits is the first time that we are completely shocked and taken aback by the bluntness of this film, but it will not be the last. One of this films’ glorifying qualities is its’ ability to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. The tension building comes from Bear McCreary’s score coupled with this bluntness of action and bravery in conveying it as such on screen.
The next we see of Michelle, she awakes chained to a pipe in an underground bunker on top of a farm surrounded by tall crops (I mean, where else would you set an alien film but somewhere desolate surrounded by a vast cropfield?). This small and claustrophobic space is a stark contrast from J J Abrams recent galaxy exploring exploits, but packs a punch all the same. There is a kind of pleasure in seeing what happens to a small amount of characters, in a confined space, over a feature length cinematic period of time, and this film is brilliantly written to keep the audience on their toes throughout.
Howard (Goodman) is perfect. A wonderful balance between psychotic and satisfied, calm and storm. He enters the film as Michelle’s captor, but insists instead to be her saviour. That he rescued her from the wreckage, and brought her to safety following a nuclear/chemical attack that has rendered the outside inhabitable. The fact that he built the bomb shelter is a bit too convenient, and he uses his ‘heroic’ behaviour as a justification for his psychotic actions. He is controlling and unyielding, quick to temper and contains all the qualities of an abuser – and that is what he becomes (although sadly, we are never invited to fully explore the reasons behind his behaviour or delve any more into his character than his surface maliciousness).
The film has all of the elements of a domestic abuse narrative – complete with Howard naming her ‘little princess’ and threatening to hurt her numerous times, but Michelle is never a victim when she is victimised. Strong, quick witted and resourceful, Winstead portrays a Ripley-esque heroine, constantly planning her next move.
The films cinematography comes in to play wonderfully when discussing Michelle’s resourcefulness. In the first half of the film, the camerawork is smart in using lingering shots of objects that later become crucial materials for Michelle’s escape – for example the shower curtain which she uses to turn into a hazmat suit, or a bottle of whiskey that she uses alongside a magazine and her lighter as a molotov.
In one scene, she explains to the sweet and naive hillbilly Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) about her past, her abusive father and her tendency to run from danger. In this film, Howard is abusive and she is forced to run for her survival, but, as in true life domestic abuse cases, life isn’t instantly rosy and straightforward from her escape.
A moment of relief as she removes her gas mask on the outside to reveal that the air is breathable is short-lived – queue aliens. She must finally confront her fear of staying to fight in the films final scenes. In her choice to stay and fight (and somehow survive being dropped 30 odd ft), she completes her character arc and draws the film to its’ close.
The last fifteen or so minutes of 10 Cloverfield Lane, which sees Michelle up against the dreaded monsters of Cloverfield, is necessary in order to bring in the supernatural element that we have been waiting for since the start of the movie, however this radical change of direction feels off. Personally, I feel that Howard holds his own as the films’ monstrous villain, and because of this the end fight feels forced, if as only put there for the connection to Cloverfield and completion of Michelle’s story.
All in all, the film is blunt, brave and sharp, complete with excellent quality acting and an intense and well rounded script for foundations. It fails as an invasion film, but then 10 Cloverfield Lane never promised it would be one, and is all the better for the change of direction from its’ predecessor.