10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) Review: There Be Monsters.
Back in the old days of…2008, there was a little movie called ‘Cloverfield’. ‘Cloverfield’ was a found footage film that told the giant monster movie from a much different perspective. It’s heralded today as one of the best movies to use the found footage technique, and an example of how you can take something as familiar as a giant monster movie, and still find a way to make it feel fresh. Putting the audience on the ground with the characters and forsaking grand spectacle for gripping tension sounds so obvious in hindsight, but at the time, it really wasn’t done for monster movies.
So, let’s say the world did end. Whether it be war, zombie uprising, alien invasion or the mole people (that last one is true), the ideal is to survive right? As human beings our instinct is to survive by any means necessary. This is true for some people more than others though, those who prepare for the end based on their own misplaced paranoia. That person may be prepared, but they’re still the type of person to prepare for the world ending without any real reason. That’s not a person who I want to be surviving with, that’s a person who belongs in a mental institution.
Essentially that’s the idea behind 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s a catch 22 of, yes the world outside is dangerous, but now you’re stuck with an insane person who thought the world was gonna end for years. John Goodman plays said insane person, Howard, and the people who are stuck with him are main character Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr. The movie takes place in an underground bunker built by Howard with help by Emmett who unlike Howard is well adjusted socially. Howard is as well adjusted as one might expect a person who builds an underground apocalypse bunker to be.
The setting makes the movie feel extremely claustrophobic, which only adds to the overall tension. There’s about 5 minutes in the whole film which aren’t uncomfortable. Most of that is due to John Goodman’s performance. His character Howard is not just slightly unhinged, he’s borderline psychotic. Both Michelle and Emmett are victims of domestic abuse in the film, all the while being told they’re being protected. Howard is violent, dismissive, and apathetic to anyone’s plight but his own. He is defensive to the idea of his own hostility but immediately accuses anyone who mildly offends him, considering what a great guy he is for saving their lives and all. He’s a creep, and he’s terrifying, giving Goodman a role of a truly great villain.
Thankfully, the role of Michelle is not that of a damsel in distress. She is a damsel in distress, but not in the general sense. She doesn’t wait for anyone to save her, and is similar to that of an Ellen Ripley or a Sarah Connor. She’s smart, capable and while she is a victim, the performance of Winstead makes it so that she’s not just there for your pity. Every expression on her face has a myriad of thoughts behind it that all point to her skepticism of her “saviour” and of her newfound situation as apocalypse survivor.
What I found most interesting about the film is how it constantly made you question everything. I questioned if the world outside was liveable so that Michelle could escape her abuser. I questioned if Goodman really was a bad guy, or if he just had a temper. It was not a movie that presented you with all the details at once. That meant that the first act of the film had a bit of a lull, but as it went on my interest was piqued. Questioning everything as I did, only put me in the headspace of the characters who weren’t sure what to believe themselves. As a survival film, Dan Trachtenberg’s work on the short film ‘Portal: No Escape’ did more than enough to prepare him for this movie. I found his direction to be really solid and tight.
I really enjoyed this movie. I felt like it was about something beneath the surface, and it’s presentation was stellar. It’s production design is great, the set feels tiny and works to the films advantage. The movie essentially makes more with less. The three actors you get have enough gravitas between them in their subtle performances to make it feel as weighty as an ensemble. The dialogue is naturalistic which works at it’s best when Howard says something in a manner that is extremely disconcerting but the words themselves are completely commonplace. It’s a bit obvious at some points, certain plot devices can be seen a mile away and while this isn’t so much a novel thing these days but it’s especially painful in a movie that was so surprising.
Overall, I liked this film a lot and I’d recommend it as theatre going experience, because being trapped by the feeling of disturbing the other people in a small dark room is just the environment to see this mind f**k of a movie.
Rating: Big Screen Watch