usually i don’t write about movies that i watch well after they’re out of theatres but this is one i need to regroup my own thoughts on.
i came into 10 cloverfield lane about as fresh as one can, having not seen the original cloverfield movie because honestly, fuck found footage films (except for the incredible Norwegian film Trollhunter). it was interesting, intelligent and definitely worth your time. it also had some aspects that could have been better.
below this line be spoilerinos.
i’m a big fan of the intimate, low-key, high-stakes, suspenseful thriller. Red Eye is one of my absolute favorite movies, and it isn’t just because i love rachael mcadams and cillian murphy and the film basically says “you guys carry this for us” although that is a lot of it. it also isn’t because murphy plays a character named jackson rippner. lol. so 10 cloverfield lane is right up my alley. it has an entire credited cast of 6: michelle, howard, emmitt, michelle’s husband, the lady outside, and the army lady’s voice.
like i said, i haven’t seen cloverfield, so i was not expecting the twist to be that howard is hiding his true nature but also the attack is real. i spent the entire beginning of michelle’s stay in the bunker rooting for her to just go outside and see like, traffic flowing down a highway or something, so when she finally gets the keys and gets to the door and is met by a lady burned up by chemicals i was surprised. of course something was deeply wrong with howard, and i was fully ready for him to be suffering some sort of psychotic disorder, but for the attack to then also be real added a second layer of horror to the whole situation. you’re locked in a hole with this unpredictable, controlling, volatile man, and even if you get out, you’re escaping into very probable death at the hands of an unknown enemy. if the twist is that nothing happened outside, that’s easily the most predictable thing in the world, so until mrs told me what happens in the first Cloverfield i respected this setup a lot. taking a movie that would be really unoriginal but still entertaining in its own right, and then setting it in this Cloverfield world, works very well for what the movie is trying to do.
john goodman kills it as howard. absolutely nails it. he was great. i would have liked to see the subplots about the missing girl and his replacing his daughter with michelle both fleshed out a little more. we can assume everything we need to about the missing girl, which is cool, the movie respects its viewers’ ability to think, AND the “that’s not megan” reveal was super unexpected, but… why her, and what was her eventual fate precisely? was that his plan with michelle too? and apart from treating her like a kid during catch phrase, dressing her in his daughter’s clothes and giving her his daughter’s magazines, the movie begged howard to slip and call her megan just once, but he wouldn’t do it. maybe it would have been cliche but i wanted it to happen and i wanted her to try to call him on it, just to see how he reacted.
let’s talk about michelle though. she gets into trouble without us really caring about her yet. all we know is she is leaving her husband, and the manner in which she does it made me think she’s afraid of him. later, in the “regrets” scene, she reveals that she “always” runs away from problems, so that’s ultimately a misdirection and not an intentional one. see the problem is, this movie is mostly directed so goddamn well, with all the tightness, mood, and foreshadowing a breaking bad fan has come to expect, that her actions here had me thinking for a while that howard was a worse manifestation of the home she was used to, a literal hell mirroring what she was afraid of if she tried to leave, but no, her and her husband really did just have a fight and she ran off from it.
we see her having a conversation on the phone that looks like she’s making an excuse for not being home later, but don’t hear the words. then ben calls him, and she answers, but just lets him talk, silently driving. then she’s wrecked and then she’s in the shelter. that’s it. i didn’t care about the character at all yet. she hadn’t spoken a word. i was too suspicious of howard to feel sorry for him for how she treats him, and he does such a terrible job of explaining himself that of course she’s mistrustful at best, but we know nothing about her, what to expect from her, or how she usually acts. contrast that with red eye. a film with a super tight 85 minute run time introduces rachael mcadams’s character much more effectively before dropping the trouble on her. we know what she does, we know how she interacts with both friends and stress, and we see her handling situations with a strange gentleman. her macgyvering a pen to stab rippner (hahaha) in the neck is shocking because it’s so visceral, but of course she would do that. her ability to twist the situation and delay is because of course a manager at a hotel can do that. in 10CL the first real acts we see michelle do, other than run away, are both feats of ingenuity. you can solve these problems easily, so why are you running from the other ones?
basically i had a tough time getting into this movie at the beginning. there was no way howard wasn’t lying about an attack (oops) so i didn’t side with him at all, and michelle was a complete unknown so i couldn’t side with her fully either. thank god for Emmitt, who, despite being an easily manipulated dinglefart, was able to let us see a human in michelle rather than just an I MUST ESCAPE motivation bot.
the backend of the movie, honestly everything after and including the air filtration system scene, was great. we know for a fact that the attack happened, and we also know for a fact that howard is not just paranoid but monstrous. the “now what” was compelling as hell and every single step along the way had been shown to the viewer before. michelle gets the gas mask plans out of a book we all saw on her first tour of the bunker. she can put together the gas mask and suit because she’s a designer. she’s good at taking disparate things and combining them into something useful, we saw that when she lit the vent on fire and waited with the crutch. when they get caught emmitt takes the blame, and michelle can only let him in horror, as in her childhood stories in the “regrets” scene. which, by the way, when you foreshadow as much as vince gilligan and you bring out a literal barrel of acid, i know what the hell that’s for, lol. someone is already dead when that barrel comes out. it was just a matter of whom, and it certainly wasn’t michelle or howard, not yet. the acid on howard’s face as obvious comeuppance, the fire it sets, and her escape through the ducting are all things we’ve seen before. i love that kind of thing, it’s part of why Hot Fuzz is my perfect movie. even her final decision, to actually go back to houston and do something instead of running to baton rouge (at what just cannot literally be a real fork in the road, that’s a damn metaphor) is a callback to what she wished she could do with the girl in the hardware store, it’s not just the end of her character arc.
so in the end i have a lot of respect for 10 cloverfield lane. i want there to be an 11 cloverfield lane that then follows michelle helping the houstonians fight back. there’s definitely a movie to be found there. a different movie completely from this one but still. i liked it pretty well. i still wouldn’t recommend it over Red Eye for an intimate, character driven thriller though, because 10CL’s characters could have been done a bit better. also go watch Trollhunter.