Like many of you awesome movie go-ers out there, I was extremely excited to see 10 Cloverfield Lane. It was one of the few films found in this day and age that had an incredible and fairly unknown production and it’s ad-campaign was phenomenal. Add the fact that the original Cloverfield film is beloved by many and you have me thoroughly excited. But there were still many questions unanswered prior to the film’s release. Is this a sequel to the original movie sharing its title, or just a distant cousin in name only? What does Winstead’s character see beyond the door? Is there actually a monster in the movie or is the or does the story serve as an allegory for the monster in all of us? After all, the tag line for many of the posters was “Monsters come in many forms”. And I love that about this movie, I love that there are unanswered questions. It often feels like we live in a world of complete cinematic transparency– we know most of what a movie contains or will be about months or even years before a film’s official release. However this film was different, not only did most people know NOTHING of this projects development, but eve after it’s announcement we knew little to nothing of the story.
And as much as I would like to tell you that the film answers those questions quickly, I simple cannot. No, this film chooses the slow burn rather than a quick bright flame. Rather than lay out the plot, characters or core story, we are treated to more mystery. It often feels like you’re competing in an obstacle course, but everything is pitch black and no one will tell you what’s around each corner or what trial you will face next. The moment you feel like you have answers, 10 Cloverfield Lane throws a curve ball. If you ever feel comfortable, you’re quickly reminded that not everything is as it seems. I HATE scary movies, always have! But a good scary movie builds tension right before you get a scare. It builds up and builds up and the moment you feel like you cannot stand it any more, the reveal happens (and even this can change). This movie is all build up– tension and stress tension and stress– with the exception of a few very brief scenes, you are never allowed to feel comfortable or safe.
The story follows Michelle (Mary Winstead) who finds herself in an underground bunker presumable taken hostage after a car accident she suffered moments before whilst attempting to leave her boyfriend. However, the would-be dungeon master, Howard (John Goodman) explains to her that she was in an accident and he found her and brought her to his humble abode. Unfortunately she cannot leave, either, because the country, or possible world, was attacked– probably nuclear and the air wouldn’t be breathable for at least a year or two. So Howard, Michelle and Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), someone who helped build the bunker and rushed there for safety when the ‘attack’ happened, attempt to peaceful spend their time together. But not everything is as transparent as Howard wants the others to believe– not only might he be lying, but he also might have ulterior motives for keeping them there.
The big mistake, I think, people in the horror-genre make is to rely far too much on music and overdone settings to set the mood. The abandoned cabin in the woods, dark basement, high-pitched music and more are all so obvious and over-the-top that the horror-genre often feels derivative and uncreative. However, this movie does something else entirely. It takes a mundane setting and makes it almost insufferable. The underground bunker is filled with 50’s-60’s feeling decor, bad colors and cheesy decorations. Look, I am not really portraying this right but trust me, if you had to spend a year in that damn bunker you would probably choose death. What should be background and unnoticed, becomes creepy, vague, hollow and unsettling to be around. You get the feeling that the tenants of this would-be arc would feel incredible uncomfortable there even if it their vessel for safety. Okay, here is the best way I can think of explaining it, but… let’s say you just found out that your landlord is a serial killer– everything you see in his apartment, at that point, becomes something to fear. The innocuous dear head hanging on the wall becomes a living breathing adorable animal that he murdered in cold blood, and the rubber-duckey shower curtains turn into something he uses to lure children into a trap. That’s how THIS bunker feels from the very second you get a solid look around. It looks normal but something feels way off– when everything feels perfectly perfect, it is probably hiding something sinister.
And like I said previously, the majority of horror films rely far too much on over-the-top scores to create jump scares rather than real scares. But this movie doesn’t… don’t get me wrong– there are times where the score does play a big factor about how you feel in a particular scene, but many of the really intense scenes were scored by complete and utter silence. And I have always been of the opinion that COMPLETE silence is far more frightening that anything music can drum up (pun intended). There is something unsettling about silence– maybe it’s because we live in a world where silence really doesn’t exist– there is always at least some ambient noise. Hell, even while I am writing this review, I have music playing in the background because when I type in silence all I hear are the keys clattering and it drives me BONKERS. And there is something unknown about silence– scores often set the mood of the scene, if you have no score then you are left to decide the mood based on only what you see. And if the actors are truly good, you can see how they feel and still not know exactly what they will do next– which is stressful as hell!
Lucky for us, the actors in this movie do a great job. I cannot say enough good things about John Goodman– the dude is a monster in this role. He is perfect! I am actually a little upset that this film wasn’t released closer to Oscar season because, dammit, he deserves an award. First and foremost– Goodman is physically very imposing, you constantly get the impression in this film that he a man who would be able to snap the other two characters in two if he so chose it. And that doesn’t just come from his size, but also he commanding presence in the film. While this movie is, in a part, an allegory about monsters within, it is also a parallel of an extremely intense and bad patriarchical family set up. Goodman plays the sort of pseudo-father to his two young roomies and demands, not only their cooperation, but there complete obedience within his domain. And like any emotionally and abusive relationship, it will eventually reach a boiling point where physical threats and fear will be outweighed by the other parties desire to escape or, unfortunately, the opposite will happen– the abuser escalates and escalates until there is nothing left for the victim to give– and they end up dead. Both are very real fears that I envisioned in this movie and you really NEVER get any relief from this.
It has been about a week or so since I have seen the film and there was one scene in particular that has stayed with me. And that is a scene **possible small spoiler ahead** in which Michelle and Emmet have just discovered that Howard is a possible murderer. They LITERALLY get interrupted while discussing it by Howard who exclaims “Problem solving always gets me in a good mood!” and walks between them, turns on a song and happily dances away while Emmet and Michelle look on rather horrified. This was an amazing scene for me because not only was it funny, therefore relieving a bit of tension, but it also shows what sort of situation the other two characters are in– the moment is both funny and incredibly suffocating at the same time. Goodman is blissfully happy while the other two look like they are screaming with their heads stuck in a glass sound proof box.
And while you do feel the tension throughout the movie, John Goodman does such a great job in his role that you KEEP GIVING HIM TE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. Every time the other characters start talking about how he’s a murderer– you believe them, but every time Goodman comes into a scene he sort of puts you at a bit of an ease by disarming you. I distinctly remember thinking several times in this movie that Howard might not be a bad guy, that he probably is just awkward and doesn’t communicate well. I found myself cutting him slack even when evidence is presented to me that he is probably a unsavorey character. Hell, even the ending of the movie makes you feel a bit better towards him… albeit only a little.
See? I told you I couldn’t say enough about Goodman.
And that’s not to diminish the other actors’ performances, either. They both did very well in the film. They were just overshadowed by Goodman, in my opinion. And I think that that is okay. Howard was meant to be an over-imposing character and so was Goodman as an actor. Winstead’s Michelle was, however, an extremely solid performance to balance off of Goodman as her character wasn’t a simple horror-fashioned damsel in distress. She, unlike Emmet, isn’t operating with blinders on for most of the movie. She followers her gut in the film and it doesn’t lead her astray. Michelle is distrustful of Howard from the beginning and thinks that he kidnapped her– and while there are moments when she has doubts, she never ignores the clues staring her in the face. We see the movie really through her eyes, when she feels safe, we feel safe, when she is frightened out of her shoes, we are too. It is a tough thing to evoke an emotion our of the audience but both Goodwin and Winstead do that in the film and both with extremely different characters.
Now, before I end this review I do have to say that this film IS NOT A CLOVERFIELD SEQUEL so please do not go into it thinking that it is. I haven’t found much evidence for this, so it is just a feeling right now, but I feel like Abrams and others involved in this project wants to create a sort of “Twilight-Zone cinematic Universe” in which each story is independent of each other– but it s a universe where crazy stuff can and will happen. In the first “Cloverfield Universe” film, the earth was attacked by a giant Godzilla-like monster , in this movie– the world may or may not be attacked again– but by what? You don’t quite know. Let’s just say that this movie is two parts Twilight Zone and one part H.P. Lovecraft. GO SEE THIS MOVIE!