April 18, 2016, Originally Published in Covenant College’s Newspaper- “The Bagpipe”
This article contains no major plot spoilers.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that many would claim shouldn’t be talked about, out of fear of giving something away and ruining the experience. The disadvantage of that philosophy, though, is that it prevents those considering going to see it from knowing whether they’ll actually like it.
The premise is simple, but intense. We follow Michelle, who gets into a car accident at the beginning of the film. When she wakes up, she is in an underground bunker with two men who tell her the world has ended, and if she leaves, she will be infected by a terrible disease. They have no outside contact. She hears the occasional rumbling of something unknown from the surface. However, she has no way of knowing what, if anything, they are telling her is true.
The film is concerned with themes of abduction and abuse, so it may not be enjoyable for all audiences. But the acting and writing are both pretty good. I can say the film is very different from 2008’s Cloverfield and is in a completely different genre, but fans of the first should enjoy this one as well.
John Goodman has a good, meaty part against type as the mysterious and gruff leader, Howard, and he plays the character with real nuance and subtlety. Throughout the film, Goodman is fascinating and dominates attention, transforming as the story progresses and even working in a bit of his comedy at one point as well. The less familiar leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr., are also incredibly interesting to watch. Here’s hoping they get more work in the future.
The film shares many style elements of others that Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams’ company) has made in the past. Out in front is Abrams’ “mystery box,” which refers to a large, mysterious plot element designed to lure in audiences—in this case, the question of what is on the surface. The trailers for this film are obscure, like they were for the original 2008 Cloverfield, and recently, the new Star Wars. As a marketing strategy, it’s brilliant. Most of the film takes place inside the house, and everybody wants to know, “what’s in the box?”
The film feels dangerous, although it didn’t surprise me as much as it could have, to the film’s detriment. With such a killer setup, the movie really shines when you don’t know what’s going on and how everything fits together. At the risk of sounding like a genre snob, I’ll say that fans of other suspense movies may be able to predict the major framework of the plot. But it’s well-crafted. Like I said, it’s a good genre thriller; it’s just nothing game-changing.
Many will enjoy it, but as the plot twisted, I found myself expecting other twists that ended up being unfulfilled, and additionally, the stretches of the movie that came between plot points sometimes lagged for me.
Perhaps this was intentional. Even after all is revealed, this film seems to be more interested in the potential of our human minds for paranoia and our ability to imagine destruction, than actual monsters themselves. This is a refreshing and thought-provoking move. By the end, one feels they have witnessed a significant emotional journey, and I found myself trying to link the major conflicts Michelle faces, including the movie’s shifting power relations, the characters’ backstories, and the total entrapment of the house itself.
The house definitely works as a clear metaphor for the entrapment of a controlling relationship. However, there’s some ambiguity, or maybe even muddling, in what meaningful things the film actually has to say about this topic. To be safe, I’ll leave that to a second viewing and your own interpretation.
Perhaps the film can best be summarized with one of its own images, in which the characters look at a large jigsaw puzzle and one remarks that there are pieces missing.