10 Cloverfield Lane

Cinema Faith Grade

Is Cloverfield 2: The Clovering a true sequel? Is it part of a broader, under-the-radar, Twilight Zone-style anthology from the mind of J.J. Abrams? Is it a character-driven thriller with a monster movie tacked on? The answer to all three questions is a strong “maybe.” But it’s safe to say if you like thrillers you could do much worse than 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s got a strong female lead in Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a creepy turn by John Goodman, and a pretty tight script with actual funny moments. The mystery of Cloverfield Lane is pretty layered, and to say more would be saying too much, but there’s plenty of pay-off in the end for genre fans.

Cloverfield Connection

2008’s Godzilla/War of the Worlds mashup Cloverfield was not a bad entry into the found-footage pantheon. It had some tricks up its sleeve that made it stand out from the crowd and it suggested a larger world that we were only seeing the edges of. The main Event was an alien invasion of New York seen through the eyes (and lens) of 20-something yuppies. There was no backstory, but there were hints of something bigger which the events in 10 Cloverfield Lane (10CL) seem to confirm. You do not have to have seen or enjoyed the first film to watch the second. There are no returning characters and any connections are inferred rather than explicitly stated.

In many ways 10CL feels like a play. It’s long second act takes place in a 4-room bomb shelter with only three characters. (There’s no reason this couldn’t be a play in fact, and now I demand that someone put it on stage!) The shelter, designed by Howard (John Goodman) and built by Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), was created as a prepper’s hideaway: deep underground, multiple layers of steel doors, a kitchen and VHS collection, a barrel of perchloric acid and more! Ostensibly built in case of aliens, Howard’s secure facility provides a claustrophobic stew for the dread to simmer.

When Michelle (Winstead) wakes up in the shelter chained to the wall after a car accident, we share her desperation as she tries to figure out what’s really going on. Howard claims that outside is now toxic and everyone is dead (despite some evidence to the contrary), a result of some kind of invasion or attack. Local dummy Emmett is also in the shelter. He believes Howard’s story because he saw something that he could not explain (lights in the sky). According to Emmett, Howard was a Navy satellite technician, so if anyone was in a position to know about alien attacks it would be Howard.

Choose Your Own Adventure

But all is not as it seems. Howard’s explanation of events starts to unravel and his erratic behaviour causes Emmett and Michelle to form a quick bond and low-key plan their escape. There are more mysteries here than just alien conspiracies and the reveal ends up more horrifying than a 50-story monster. John Goodman is alternately creepy, manic, and paranoid and his arc is the least interesting. The real star is Winstead who leads the tiny cast and projects strength, fear, resourcefulness, and sadness in ways that feel heroic and true. Michelles definitely exist in the real world — women who are more than capable of pushing back against whatever gets thrown at them no matter how unbelievable. When threatened, Michelle doesn’t cower. She’s not a helpless victim and we cheer for her to figure it all out from the moment she wakes up.

From start to finish there’s a real “What Would You Do If…” feel to the story. At every turn there are key choices for Michelle (and to a lesser degree Emmett) to make; we can’t help but put ourselves into the same situation and ask that question. (“What Would I Do If… I had to crawl into a ventilation shaft?” “Yes, that!”) Where most thrillers collapse into the protagonist making a series of inexplicably stupid choices because of Reasons, or imbue the antagonist with god-like powers, 10CL is smarter than that.

When all is said and done, the only mystery left is whether Abrams and crew will create more Cloverfield stories. I think there’s an appetite out there for smaller, smarter monster movies in a shared universe. Whether we get the continuing adventures of Michelle (I’d totally watch that) or an unrelated Cloverfield 3: Electric Boogaloo, it would be a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

  • DocRLS

    OK, Dan. You gave away the ending (“the continuing adventures of Michelle” — Grin). Nice review. If I could get my wife to go with me I would see it. Not likely, though.

    • Maybe. But maybe there’s more to learn. Maybe Michelle is just a head in a jar, or a digital construct, or a human/alien hybrid with latent powers… you don’t know!

      • DocRLS

        OK, that really did make me LOL.