Day #13 of Horror-thon brings us to 10 Cloverfield Lane, a 2016 sci-fi psychological horror centred around three people in an underground bunker.
Let me get this off my chest straight away – the ending annoyed the hell out of me. The last ten minutes were not needed in any capacity and really took away from the struggle the main character Michelle (superbly played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) had endured. I know it was done to properly link it in with the original Cloverfield film and to show how she’s grown, but it was ham-fisted and unneeded.
The idea of this film is a solid one, with excellent execution and a strong cast – indeed we literally have a cast of three people in this film. Three. For the whole film. Our main character is Michelle, a young woman with aspirations of becoming a designer (important) but who can’t handle conflict and so cuts and runs rather than making the effort and taking the time to work things out. When breaking up with her boyfriend (after one argument) she drives off but is involved in an accident. When she comes to, she finds herself seemingly held prisoner in an underground bunker by Howard (John Goodman who is phenomenal in this role). Howard is a slightly unhinged, domineering man, hellbent on keeping Michelle and fellow bunker dweller Emmett (John Gallagher Jr – again, brilliant in his role) from going outside. Why? Because Howard believes that there’s been an attack – chemical, nuclear, extra-terrestrial, he’s not sure, but he’ll do anything to make sure no one leaves.
Before I properly get into anything, I just wanted to mention how gorgeous the set design of this film is. We’re in one location for pretty much the entire film and it was beautiful. That little bunker was cosy, cute, contained and claustrophobic. I loved how they made it feel homely and yet sinister at the same time. It reflected Howard’s character – nurturing and safe, but inescapable and stifling all at once. Expert design and brilliant psychology.
Moving on –
Holy hell is Goodman incredible in this film. From the moment we meet Howard he’s unnerving. Whether it’s the fact that he doesn’t meet anyone’s gaze unless he’s angry, whether its how he stands (bolt upright when showing authority or hunched over when he’s trying to just get on with shit. Howard’s got a lot to be getting on with too – gotta keep that bunker nice and tidy after all) or the way his mood changes so rapidly. He’s insanely jealous and instantly possessive over Michelle (we’re given hints throughout that she reminds him of his daughter, but even that takes a sinister turn, especially when he shaves off his beard) and nearly always hostile toward Emmett. Goodman handles the insane duality of Howard with remarkable easy – we’re presented with a man who may not be trust worthy, but he’s surely safer than the dangerous, chemical world outside. This is Goodman’s film. Whilst Gallagher and Winstead are great too, it almost feels like they’re bit players in Goodman’s dramatic stage play. Because that’s how he makes it feel – this is Howard’s show, he’s performing constantly, never giving us his true face until he finally cracks near the end.
This film is very much a character study. We’re given quiet moments where the characters have a chance to reflect on their lives before the bunker. We’re given opportunity to study their regrets and watch their development as they try to survive their predicament. Of course our main character, Michelle, is the main focus of this. Throughout she moves from trying to avoid conflict and running away, to constructing careful plans and actively fighting against captivity, not just physically but mentally. She doesn’t just give up and live in Howard’s world. She becomes a warrior – this does become additionally apparent at the end when she’s faced with an even bigger threat than Howard, but as mentioned earlier, this almost feels like a ham-fisted attempt to show us how strong she’s become. We’ve already seen it, she’s escaped from and defeated her monsters already. Michelle is a great final girl – she’s three dimensional and has a full and realised character arch. That bloody ending though.
10 Cloverfield Lane could have just been a superb thriller. It could have been a phenomenal psychological horror, focusing on the power of fear and paranoia and how it can force you to choose your demons. But unfortunately, it falls at the last hurdle and the careful pacing and well-constructed plot take a hop skip and a flying, fucking leap off into the sci-fi action sea. Any tension they’d created throughout smashed and I was left feeling unsatisfied. They could have ended it with our resourceful heroine breaking out of the bunker and realising that she had been lied to all along. But no. We’re given the cheap option. Sorry if this makes me sound like a grouch, especially given the praise I have for the rest of the film, but the ending really felt like a cop-out.
But let’s try and focus on the positives. The plot is simple, but incredibly well paced. We’re given time to get to know these characters, to like them and care about them. The dialogue is spot on – it always feels organic and each character has their own distinct accent, their own distinct vocal quirks and their own voice. They all feel like their characters – Howard’s speech moves between aggressive, fatherly, panicked and monotone. Michelle starts out as a panicky character, talking too fast but as the film goes on, she becomes calmer and in control. Emmett too has his own development through dialogue, initially presenting himself as not too smart, he becomes a clever manipulator. As we’re not given much for the characters to do until the last forty minutes of the film, it’s all in the dialogue. So damn good.
It’s shot well, the sound design is great, and I honestly would have to say I had fun watching it. Until the end. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend you watch it for sure, but maybe skip the last 10 minutes, they cheapen everything (though the special effects look ok I guess).
Thanks for reading everyone! Next up I’ll be taking a look at horror comedy, Happy Death Day.