Before 10 Cloverfield Lane came out, people were debating whether or not it was a sequel to the 2008 monster and found footage flick, Cloverfield. I think most people decided that it was but, from the trailer, it was hard to tell how it was a sequel. No large monsters tromping through cities or shaky hand held camera shots. It looked more standard thriller than sci-fi horror.
When asked about whether it’s a sequel, the director, Dan Trachtenberg, states,
“We felt like it would be clear, based on the title, that if we wanted to make Cloverfield 2 it would’ve been called Cloverfield 2. We would have jumped at the bit. But I always loved this title because it sounds like a Twilight Zone episode and it certainly would beg curiosity. But I was surprised that so many people didn’t even want to believe when we said it wasn’t.” (source)
So, not a direct sequel. More like “in the same universe”. And the reason for the title of the movie doesn’t show up until the very end. And even that was put in late in filming, after the title was created.
What is 10 Cloverfield Lane?
When we watch movies, we look for visual clues that tell us what we’re getting into.
The color palette for 10 Cloverfield Lane begins in washed out blues, greens, and greys. Very cold colors. When the main character, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), lands in the bunker, the palette switches to earthy tones with lots of shadows. There are shadows everywhere!
Also, the bunker colors look almost fake because they are presented in patterns and styles straight out of the eighties and maybe early nineties. The rooms feel as if they’ve come from the past, which falls in line with the plot. Howard (John Goodman) is a man who is constantly anchored to his past, whether in his mentionings of his time in the Navy or when he talks about his daughter and ex-wife.
The palette screams horror and thriller. But Howard’s explanation about aliens and Emmett’s “bright red light”, as well as the strange sounds coming from above, point to a more sci-fi explanation. Half of the movie is just the audience trying to get its footing with Michelle as to what the hell is just going on. And when we think (and when Michelle thinks) we know what’s going on, the film turns us on our heads.
Running Away or Toward?
The idea of running away and avoidance runs heavily through 10 Cloverfield Lane.
In the beginning of the film, Michelle is leaving her apartment. She leaves an engagement ring behind and we learn that she and her fiance had a huge fight. Over what, we don’t know. Where she’s going, we don’t know. We’re not supposed to know. The important thing is that she’s afraid and, instead of choosing to fight, she chooses flight.
The other man in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) confesses later that he had a free ride to a good school. He was a track athlete in high school and he says he was “always running”. He even ran away from his bad grades and got an athletic scholarship. However, faced with a college environment he fears will only lead to failure, he purposefully misses the bus out of town. After that, he’s running in place, staying within the forty mile circle of his rural town.
Howard, though, is the only one standing in place. Trapped by what he lost and caught up in his own desires, he turns out to be the most threatening character in the bunker. How he is threatening is the first twist in the movie.
Who is Howard?
Emmett claims to know Howard. He has known him for years. He characterizes the older man as a harmless eccentric who, because of his conspiracy theories, happens to be ready when worldwide disaster finally does strike.
We learn as the movie goes on that Howard is a veteran of the Navy and that he once had a pranky sense of humor. In a relaxed moment, he confides in Michelle that he and his buddies on ship would use liquid nitrogen to trap their CO (commanding officer) in the bathroom. With a chuckle, he says, “It would take him about an hour to get out.”
We know that he keeps up his Navy intelligence contacts because he refers to an uptake in “chatter” right before everything went dark. We know that his wife felt threatened or smothered by her husband’s conspiracy theories and his need to prepare for Doomsday. She took their daughter to Chicago and he hasn’t seen her since.
And when a woman comes to the bunker entrance begging for help, we see Howard’s ruthless pragmatism and overwhelming need to keep Michelle safe.
But, throughout the movie, we feel that we’re missing something about Howard. That, there is something, just beyond the light, in those shadows in every corner, that is vital for us to know. When Michelle and Emmett discover this last piece, they have to decide whether to choose flight or fight.
(This is nicely foreshadowed in the movie. Howard begins a puzzle and Emmett tries to finish it. However, he can’t. There are pieces missing. Right after he points this out is when we discover the truth about Howard.)
The Mother of All Endings
I really, really don’t want to spoil the ending. It’s beyond fantastic. It is the mother of all twists.
It’s also the only time in the whole movie when someone cusses. And it’s wonderfully timed. If I was faced with what she saw, I would have a choice word, too.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a must see. It’s a genre-bending blend of sci-fi, thriller, and horror. The characters are fleshed out and we come to care about them rather quickly. I liked Emmett especially because I’ve known young men just like him. But John Goodman’s performance as Howard was my especial favorite because he is heartwarming and terrifying in turns.
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Also published on Medium.