“10 Cloverfield Lane” Changes the Game For Science Fiction Thrillers and Succeeds
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Release Date: March 11, 2016
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Studio: Bad Robot Productions
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Thriller
Review Spoilers: High
Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut brings the 2008 monster movie Cloverfield back into the forefront. 10 Cloverfield Lane was announced back in January, and given the way Marvel and DC have been pimping their movies out for the past year and a half, this alone sets the film apart. Coming off of the legendary success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams brings his Cloverfield universe back a month following TFA‘s release with it’s own release date set in March.
However, despite the shared reference in the movie title, very little about 10 Cloverfield Lane is actually related to the 2008 movie. It tells the story of a girl named Michelle who gets into a car accident and wakes up chained to a pipe in a sparse room in an underground bunker. She’s kept by a man named Howard, a conspiracy nut who informs her that there was an attack and she’s been saved by him. Joining them in the bunker is Emmett, a local guy from Louisiana who worked with Howard in the building of the bunker and confirms Howard’s suspicions of an attack.That’s as far as I can go without spoiling anything, so turn back now or forever hold your peace.
So as far as thrillers go 10 Cloverfield Lane ranks at the very top. Atmospherically it keeps you jarringly unsettled and anxious the entire time. Much of what makes it great is the setting of the story, a confined bunker that not only forces Michelle, Howard, and Emmett to interact with one another, but also keeps things like secrets impossible to hide. It redefines thrillers in an age when the quarterly slasher horror and shocking thriller features the basic dark forest and dark mysterious corners. The bunker lays everything out in front of you, by all accounts it should be a paradise during the apocalypse. There’s food, water, electricity, the comforts of living, and it’s all safe from the world burning down above them.But it quickly shows us that you don’t need to be a towering kaiju or an alien bug creature to be a monster, because hey! You woke up in your underwear, chained to a pipe in a bunker with a mentally unstable guy who kills people and melts them in acid without a second thought, and probably initially kidnapped you to keep you locked up down here as his daughter-wife.
As the audience, it’s impossible to trust someone who so powerfully exudes creepiness like Howard. There are so many warning signs flashing when you meet him that never actually go away. Although he’s initially abrasive towards Michelle and insistent she stays, the scarier side of him is his desire to protect her and keep her in the bunker with him. Even without his potential kidnapper backstory, it’s overbearing and suffocating. John Goodman plays a convincing wolf in sheep’s clothing and does a fantastic job keeping Emmett and Michelle (as well as the audience) on the edge of their seat.While it isn’t clear until the end whether or not the attack is real or just a figment of a crazy man’s imagination, the danger within the bunker is enough to force Michelle and Emmett to cook up a plan to escape. Despite a period of peace within the bunker in which the three grow close and Michelle befriends them both, the revelation that Howard is somehow connected to a missing local girl (presumably kidnapped like Michelle was) sets the perfect tone for the climax.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle is not only hardy and resourceful, but her quick thinking turns a character who is literally stripped of all of her freedom and agency at the beginning into the true hero of the film. She fights off Howard and escapes the impenetrable bunker before fighting off two aliens, and jumping in a car with her life and limbs attached to get the hell out of dodge.As far as connections to the original film, the aliens are the only one, and by far the least interesting part of the story. Their attack serves as a catalyst rather than the soul of the film. It keeps the three locked up together, and keeps the tension thick between the characters. The accomplished Bear McCreary does a stellar job in scoring the film, a vital and indispensable requirement to the atmosphere of the movie. All the elements come together to make 10 Cloverfield Lane an overwhelming success.
Final Thoughts: The loose connection to Cloverfield is already the subject of much talk, but 10 Cloverfield Lane stands alone perfectly as a science fiction thriller. It is a refreshing take on a familiar concept, with twists and turns that (while not all together unimaginable) keep your attention with white-knuckled intensity.