When comparing this film to the original Cloverfield (2008), 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) is a distant relation—somewhere along the lines of second cousin twice removed. It abandons the jerky camera movements and doesn’t force its audience to be dragged along while the main characters make dumb decisions. Instead, this movie focuses on one woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is leaving behind her life and her husband when she gets in a car crash. She regains consciousness in a bunker with two men, Howard (John Goodman) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). They tell her that there has been some sort of attack and the air above isn’t breathable—she’s trapped there until the air clears and they don’t know how long that will be.
The bunker, while disguised as a cozy home complete with running water, books, and a movie library, also elicits a feeling of unease. Rather, Howard’s character causes the audience, as well as Michelle, to develop feelings of disquiet anxiety. His controlling nature comes with a short temper fuse and keeps the other two residents constantly on edge, in fear of what the say or do. He tends to snap when there is any dissent among his wards—his possessive nature over Michelle is the setup for many of these scenes, particularly the one where Michelle intentionally flirts and touches Emmett in order to gauge a response from Howard. The pathological fear that he inspires throughout the film cause audiences to wonder whether the bunker or the outside world is the greater evil.
There are several moments when this controlling nature dissipates and we see a softer side of Howard, mainly when he is discussing his daughter, Megan. Upon the revelation that Megan was not his daughter, but a young woman he kidnapped and murdered, the audience and Michelle are exposed fully to his manipulative control. Not only does the bunker remain their physical prison against the outside world, but also becomes the setting for a psychological battle of wits. Upon Howard’s discovery of misplaced objects around the bunker, Emmett uses flattery to disguise his and Michelle’s escape plan. His deceit results in his death and culminates in the choices that Michelle makes from that point onward.
In fact, I think the idea of choice itself is one of the main premises of the movie—especially the choice of whether or not to take action. One of my favorite scenes is when Michelle and Emmett discuss their greatest regrets and how their survival is a new chance to live and continue making choices—something not a lot of people in the world are getting. After Emmett is killed Michelle examines his wallet and find the train ticket for a journey he never committed to taking, and her subsequent decision to take action against her captor, Howard, allows her to escape. Once she exits the bunker and following the subsequent alien attacks, Michelle finds signal on the radio, hearing that Baton Rouge is secure and safe, while Houston needs people to help them combat the otherworldly attackers. Michelle decides once more to make the choice she didn’t do with the abusive father and little girl from her past—she decides to take action and turns down the road towards Houston.
Another aspect of this film that stood out to me was the notion of truth. Throughout the story, audience members share Michelle’s thought process, attempting to discern what is real and what isn’t. We spend a large portion of the film debating to ourselves whether or not the whole contamination story from Howard is fabricated or real. We’re given multiple indications that he’s lying—Michelle’s car being driven off the road by his truck as well as the cars that she hears passing by occasionally. After we see the contaminated woman, it’s Howard’s backstory that becomes the fluidity between truth and uncertainty. What is great about the film is that everything isn’t resolved at once—rather, we are led through all these facets and given glimpses of truth throughout the storyline. Elements continually come in and out of the plot that make us question the information we already know and we slowly discover what is reality as the story progresses.
Overall, I thought this film was gripping and suspenseful and I couldn’t wait for what waited around different corners of the storyline. The last fifteen minutes almost felt like a different movie, but Michelle’s resourcefulness (seriously, she knows her way around survivalism) does a good job of transitioning us from one antagonist to another. I definitely recommend it!