10 Cloverfield Lane is a high intensity thriller from the Cloverfield series. The trailer showed us scenes of a trio living in a cozy fallout shelter. So like the original Cloverfield this film relates to something apocalyptic, but the connection between the films is tenuous at best. If one were to say this film simply rides upon the back of Cloverfield’s success that would be unfair and wrong. This film is a worthy partner to the original and is a sort of spiritual sequel to Cloverfield. If this is ushering in a new trend in franchise film making, where films share the same series title but are not related or even in the same universe, then it is a departure worth championing. The endless mush of mind numbing rehashes of comic book and fairy tale stories has become unbearable. The only way mainstream action adventure could reinvent itself now is if they dropped Snow White and the huntsman into a scorched maze full of divergent hunger games, and even then it could be mistaken for another Transformers sequel.
Therefore 10 Cloverfield Lane can be seen as a refreshing blast in our era of ultra-effects based smash-em ups. The cast is small and strong, basically three characters. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a millennial with dreams of designing clothes, John Goodman’s character Howard, a retired Navy veteran with a penchant for elaborate conspiracy theories spurred by his knowledge of military satellite activity, and there’s Emmet (John Gallagher Jr) the likable local guy, a millennial who in a way doesn’t seem like a millennial at all, his beard doesn’t look contrived.
It uses an interesting and familiar locale, the homely fallout shelter, but turns it on it’s head. It’s a throwback to the 1950’s retro nuclear hysteria, but also a reference to the present “Prepper” phenomenon. This fad, which includes creating a well stocked societal-meltdown proof hideaway, is basically an excited apprehension of imminent government collapse. It’s possibly a mutation of the popular militia movement of the 1990’s. It differs in that instead of the fear and hate of a supposedly all-powerful government that is hellbent on destroying every last shred of individual liberty, which was the main gist of the militias, the philosophy of a ‘’Prepper” involves believing that the government is incompetent, in denial, and will eventually self-destruct, fall to revolt, or succumb to foreign invasion etc. A prepper is determined not to be left helpless in the inevitable ‘’state of nature’’ that we’ll find ourselves in after the breakdown of law and order. Howard is the prepper in this tale and Emmet and Michelle are fortunate to have been in his presence when the end of the world came around. Howard does not let them forget for a second that without his perceptive prediction of the apocalypse, they would be dead. This is an interesting drama to portray, the crazed doom predictor being proven right and he’s so proud of his correct assessment he doesn’t seem concerned that the world has ended. It’s worth it because it means he’s right.
Howard’s glee at his predicament points to something more sinister than his own self-righteousness. Michelle has her own suspicions about how she ended up in the bunker so fortuitously. The fact that Emmet had to break into the bunker, and that Howard seems quite irritated by Emmett’s presence catches our attention. In a bunker with these two men, it’s a no brainer for Michelle and the audience who’s a better catch, and who she will want to share the rest of her life with. If Emmett wasn’t there Howard may have been slightly more comfortable in his skin and extra one-hundred and fifty pounds. This scenario points to another contemporary issue, the abduction and enslavement of women. The Ariel Castro kidnappings and other ghastly crimes which were committed by seemingly normal people in our society are unimaginable horrors that are worthy of inspection. This year’s Oscar winner Room masterfully explored this topic with immense sensitivity and tact. With all this in mind one cannot watch 10 Cloverfield Lane and not imagine what Michelle was thinking when awoke chained to a pipe in an unfplastered basement. The fact that one should have to think of such horrors as a possibility is frightening for a society and this film plays with this, intertwining two contemporary topics, preppers and for lack of a better term, “rape dungeons”. It puts them in a universe where mysterious events have caused the end of the world as we know it. This intermingling of themes in a science-fiction plot makes for engaging cinema. By not showing us exactly what has happened above ground it keeps us guessing and keeps Michelle wondering what the true nature of her situation is.
10 Cloverfield Lane won’t blow your mind but it’ll engage and entertain you for just under two hours. It’ll do that with, an intelligent plot, intense pacing, an ominous score and solid acting, and without CGI frills and washboard chests.