I watched a movie a day over spring break, and Pan’s Labyrinth was my favorite (though I also want to give a shout-out to Batman: Under the Red Hood). So much has already been said about that film that I can’t even begin to cover in one post, though, and two Life Updates ago, I promised “more words” on the first film I watched upon returning home: 10 Cloverfield Lane. No, it’s not Pan’s Labyrinth (though few films are), but it’s an intelligent, deceptively complicated, and intense thriller that’s more than worthy of your time. Producer J.J. Abrams called it a ‘companion piece’ but not a sequel to 2008’s found-footage sci-fi film Cloverfield. I haven’t seen that movie, but I still really enjoyed its follow-up.
10 Cloverfield Lane is centered on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young woman who wakes up after a car accident to find herself in an underground bunker beneath a farmhouse, owned by Howard (John Goodman). He insists he saved her life–he is a conspiracy theorist who insists that aliens have destroyed and poisoned the rest of the world–but Michelle, understandably, fears he has more sinister motives.
Though restricted in scope, the movie is quite well thought-out and intricate, with its clever premise giving way to some moments of great ingenuity. On the other hand, it’s also surprisingly restrained despite its torture-porn opening, and the willingness to entertain and maintain some ambiguity until the very end goes a long way in creating a pervasive atmosphere of dread. The result is a suspenseful, inventive, and very tense thriller. It’s an impressive directorial debut for Dan Trachtenberg (the pre-credits scene is killer). The casting choices are great, too. Goodman as the mercurial, imposing Howard is the standout, but Winstead is very good in the lead role and John Gallagher, Jr. brings humor, sensitivity, and surprising depth to the role of Emmett, a seemingly dim-witted country boy who rounds out the small cast of characters.
The film mostly plays out as a locked-room thriller (though its title will suggest otherwise), but from the moment Winstead (known for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World but also as a “scream queen” in movies like The Ring 2, Final Destination 3, and Death Proof) wakes up in her underwear and chained inside a basement, it also courts another genre: horror. Resourceful Michelle is a heroine in the “final girl” tradition of slasher flicks. Though it never delves into exploitation film territory, the anxiety at the heart of 10 Cloverfield Lane very much plays on the pervasive, real-world threat of sexual predators. It’s never quite resolved, or even spoken aloud, but the subtle and sinister way it informs the dynamic of the characters adds to the understated menace of the confined world.
The premise also calls to mind Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and the film evokes another of the “many forms” that real-world, human, flesh-and-blood monsters can take: abuse. I have mixed feelings on 10 Cloverfield Lane as an allegory for overcoming abuse–next to the admirable restraint displayed elsewhere, Michelle’s monologue about her violent father comes across as less effective than hints and subtext would have been. It also rings a little hollow, given the resourceful ingenuity with which she previously fashioned weapons out of her crutches to attack Howard. As a metaphor for the more subtle but still highly dangerous forms of psychological abuse and coercion, however, it’s very resonant.
There were some complaints about the film’s ending. I also was skeptical at first about the climax, which seems to present a radical break from everything that came before. But I have to say, the movie’s closing shot was one of the most satisfying I’ve seen in a while.