10 Cloverfield Lane (2016).
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg.
Starring John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr.
A woman awakes in an underground bunker after being knocked unconscious in a a car accident. Two men are with her, claiming the world up above has been devastated by a chemical attack.
With 10 Cloverfield Lane and Room being released within months of each other, expect your new favourite Netflix sub-genre to appear by the end of the year: home imprisonment movies with female protagonists.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) doesn’t start out locked in an underground bunker like Room’s ‘Ma’. She’s driving away from New York after breaking up with her fiancé (played oddly by Bradley Cooper for all of two lines over the phone), where she’s involved in a car accident. When she wakes up, she’s chained to a wall in a cell-like room and doted over by the uncomfortably paternal Howard (John Goodman). She remains trapped down there, with Howard and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a builder who helped construct the bunker, told that the world outside has ended.
From then on, things get spoiler. It’s that kind of movie.
10 Cloverfield Lane didn’t start out this way. It began life as a spec script called The Cellar all the way back in 2012. After being bought by Paramount Pictures, it was given the codename Valencia. Damien Chazelle came onto rewrite the script, but dropped out from directing when his own movie Whiplash was picked up.
Sometime during production, the filmmakers noticed how Valencia could work within the world of Cloverfield – Matt Reeves’ 2008 alien invasion movie. Those monsters-from-outta-space could be why the world had ended outside the bunker. JJ Abrams’ company Bad Robot fired up their production cloaking device, and the film became 10 Cloverfield Lane – a title only revealed to the cast a few days before the first trailer’s release.
All of a sudden, a low-budget, indie drama about three people in a room, became a sequel to one of the best science fiction movies in the last ten years. Abrams’ legacy will be just as much in marketing as it is in directing sci-fi franchises.
If a film can be turned into an alien-invasion movie relatively late into its production process, it’s safe to say that movie isn’t really about aliens. Much like Gareth Edwards’ Monsters (and even more like its sequel Monsters: Dark Continent [a film that was originally a war drama in the Middle East, until the ‘Monsters’ brand was tacked onto it shortly before shooting]), 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t about the aliens; it’s about its very terrestrial, human characters.
Michelle is admirably resourceful. If there’s a way to get out of a situation, she’ll try it immediately. She’d even do things you hadn’t even thought of. It’s nice to have characters onscreen smarter than you; it avoids the oft-felt ‘spectator frustration’ during horror or thriller movies. Everything feels so spoon fed in comparison these days.
Emmett is the smallest part, but necessary. Like the vents in the bunker, his comedic relief sporadically filters the tension in the air.
But the movie is Goodman’s Howard, a man of noises, grunts and sighs. His acting comes from the pauses between lines. He’s almost the physical embodiment of the bunker itself, with its mechanical whirs, buzzing light fixtures and compartmentalised chambers. There’s a deep darkness within him, made all the trickier by his good intentions. His bunker is a manifestation of preservation – for human existence in a post-apocalyptic world, and for how his life was before his family fell apart.
As mentioned, it’s hard to write much more about the film without venturing into spoilers. The soundtrack is terrific, the character beats are wonderfully observed, plot twists pretzel the story along with a healthy pace, and – much like Michelle’s attitude – not a single resource is wasted. The movie has an armoury of Chekov’s guns, cocked and aimed in every scene.
With the production process in mind, the final reel feels tacked on. Not that it wasn’t enormously fun, but the important character work had already been rounded off by that point. It felt surplus.
Nevertheless, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a terrifically tense film, with some truly unsettling visuals that’ll stay with you for weeks afterwards.
You’ll never be able to watch reruns of Roseanne the same way ever again.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★