[Header photo courtesy the 10 Cloverfield Lane Facebook page.]
10 Cloverfield Lane
Story by Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken, screenplay by Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
What if the person who saved you from a bad situation is just another version of a bad situation?
That is the heart and soul of 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the movie is much like The Cabin in the Woods in that it’s very difficult to talk about ANY of it without spoiling what makes this movie work. It reminds me of A Clockwork Orange (the only movie I’ve seen as an adult that gave me nightmares): a psychological movie that is very good, but so disturbing that I don’t know if I ever want to see it again.
So, before I delve into this review, I need to alert you to two things. First, if you like psychological thrillers and can handle it, you don’t want to read past the trailer as that’s when I start analyzing it. While I will try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible (and am completely staying away with how this is connected to Cloverfield outside of acknowledging that it’s in the same universe), this is the kind of movie that works best if you go in as blind as possible. Second, you may want to stay away from seeing this in a theatre if you have problems watching psychological manipulation (both on camera and from the filmmakers) or if abuse (mostly psychological) is something that disturbs you beyond normal levels. Oh — and those other reviewers were right: John Goodman hits it out of the freakin’ ballpark. Which kind of is a hint as to why it’s so damned disturbing of a film.
So, even trying to explain the basic plot feels like I’m spoiling it for you. The movie is all the POV of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who at the beginning of the movie is packing a bag and then drives away, leaving her husband. As she is driving, she is sideswiped by a truck and is in an accident. The next thing she knows, she wakes up — not in a hospital, but in a subterranean bunker built by Howard (John Goodman), with the help of hired construction guy Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.).
Howard apparently had been working on the bunker for years, with enough conspiracies to tire the Illuminati, and holds … shall we say outdated views about life, women, and how to interact with others. He insists he’s saving the life of Michelle (and Emmett, for that matter) by keeping them in the bunker, as there was some sort of attack that contaminated the air. However, because he keeps tight control over the bunker and information flow — for safety — Michelle (and therefore the audience) is never 100% sure of the full story of what’s going on.
And that’s where the brilliance of this movie sets in, as well as where Goodman’s acting helps make this movie truly terrifying. If you go by just the text — or see things from his point of view — Howard has very good reasons for everything he does in the movie. It may all be just a combination of Michelle’s paranoia of how she got into the situation combined with Howard’s more old-fashioned thinking, with a healthy dose of no one really knowing what the full story of what’s going on outside and Howard being a little too determined to keep himself safe regardless of the cost.
However, because we’re in Michelle’s POV, combined with the movie using sound and camera viewpoint to manipulate the audience subtextually, as well as only getting hints of Michelle’s own past, the tension ramps up to 11. She admits to Emmett at one point that she had an abusive childhood, and — while never directly stated — it’s hinted, too, that abuse is at the core of why she left her husband. There’s also more than a fair share of Howard’s attitude being the more ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ style, especially towards taking on a leadership role (his being in the Navy at one point only adds to it). And, of course, if you’re at all familiar with Cloverfield, you are fully aware of what may be happening (or what has happened) in the outside world, which adds even more manipulation to what you’re seeing on the screen.
As the movie goes on, turns out everyone is not telling the full story of who they are: but then again, who DOES tell others (especially strangers) the more hidden parts of their personality?
While Goodman definitely deserves every bit of the kudos sent his way, Winstead holds her own as a smart (but not TOO smart) woman who obviously has a past, and is trying to survive. While yes, she panics at times and makes some stupid mistakes, she also does things that make sense in the moment and is quick to think her way through many a tense situation. She is, throughout, a survivor — of her past as well as her current situation.
10 Cloverfield Lane is not a movie to enjoy — it’s a movie to survive. It is frighteningly brilliant, intense to a terrifying level, and a fascinating take on the psychological thriller. If this sounds like something up your proverbial street, catch it when you can. Just don’t blame me if it leaves you with uncomfortable nightmares. 10 Cloverfield Lane was released in the US on March 11.
You can see more of Angie’s work (and her social media connections) over at her website.