I almost didn’t watch this movie. I never saw Cloverfield, and heard enough about it that I wasn’t really all that interested in it. So something that sounded like it might be a sequel wasn’t really on my radar. But then I heard from Sunil that this was a standalone thing, and more importantly, there weren’t any other movies I wanted to see that weekend. I decided to brave the potential scary and give it a whirl.
I’m so very glad I did. 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t a horror movie, I don’t think. It’s more of a thriller, with the ordinary everyman Michelle trying to figure out what has happened to her and escape her captivity to gain freedom in a potentially deadly world. It’s unbearably, superbly tense at times, relieved occasionally by some delightfully black humor.
The basic plot is simple: Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has just broken up with her fiance and left their home. On the way through the countryside, something hits her car. She wakes up, injured and held captive in an underground bunker with survivalist conspiracy nut Howard (John Goodman) and hapless regular guy Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr). And it looks like they’re going to be trapped down there fore the long haul, because according to Howard and Emmett, there’s been some kind of chemical attack at the surface and everyone is dead.
It’s a pretty simple setup, three people attempting to live together while one of them–Howard–is absolutely unhinged in a very quiet way. John Goodman is absolutely terrifying in the quietest way possible, delivering a twitchy performance that leaves the audience as off balance as Emmett and Michelle, unable to tell which way he’ll turn. And the way Howard talks to Michelle while staring through her and past her gave me chills. The power of the film is ultimately the way the three characters interact, with Michelle and Emmett forming bouncing between deep suspicion of Howard as new facts are revealed, coupled with deeply weird, almost familial moments of these people just trying to get along–sometimes because they genuinely find something to like about each other, sometimes because they’re desperate to appease their mercurial captor.
Michelle makes for an amazing hero with a very satisfying character arc. Michelle is the sort of hyper-competent problem solver that we so rarely see female characters get to be. The most interesting thing about her is the fact that she’s a wannabe fashion designer, and obviously has been written by someone who gets that it’s a serious profession with a lot of skills involved. She addresses the problems presented to her by looking at the materials she has at hand and designing some kind of solution–there was so much make it work in her that I think she’d make Tim Gunn weep with pride.
Another thing I appreciated, in light of the stories we normally get where a female character is held captive, is that Michelle doesn’t ever get sexualized by the two men in the bunker, let alone sexually assaulted. (In fact, Howard polices very hard against it, for incredibly creepy reasons of a different sort.) It’s a sad statement that I have to point that out as a bonus, but I think it’s an important thing to note.
There are a lot of surprises to this movie and some very unexpected turns that I don’t want to spoil. It’s well worth watching, and seeing Michelle unravel the mysteries is incredibly rewarding. Perhaps my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I never watched Cloverfield, so I had no expectations coming from that name. Let this one be its own movie, and you won’t regret it.