Even if you’re not particularly claustrophobic, naturally none of us likes to feel trapped. So of course, a common theme or setting for thrillers and horror films is exactly that. The protagonist is trapped, usually by a murderous psychopath or even perhaps a supernatural being, and we watch with our blood pressure rising, hoping they somehow manage to get out alive.
10 Cloverfield Lane, directed by Dan Trachtenberg, starts with this relatively simple and common concept. Girl is trapped in a room, possibly a basement. Girl is chained to the radiator. Girl, of course, has no idea how she got there. Or how she’s going to get out.
But what 10 Cloverfield Lane manages to do with this film trope is take it one step further. They introduce more ‘what if’s’ for the audience. Howard, portrayed brilliantly by John Goodman, tells our trapped protagonist Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that he has saved her from a car accident (am I the only one getting Misery vibes from this?) and that there’s been an ‘attack’. If she’s to go outside, she’ll die from the poisonous air or perhaps something even more sinister.
In other thrillers that use the theme of being trapped as their plot, there will only be one main ‘what if’- ‘what if this man/woman/monster kills them.’ But for 10 Cloverfield Lane, we have an abundance, ‘What if this man kills her. What if this man is crazy. What if this man is telling the truth. What if he’s both crazy and telling the truth?‘
A spiritual sequel to the first Cloverfield film, the story doesn’t add on to the plot or narrative of the first film, so you don’t have to have seen the first one to watch this. Instead, they feature many of the same elements, themes and symbols seen in it’s predecessor which enables 10 Cloverfield Lane to be both a great stand alone film, and also in some ways a homage to the first Cloverfield and its fans.
Tension is the main theme in this film. Michelle is constantly tense; in the close-up shots of her face, you can see her eyes flicking, her mouth twitching, her brain ticking things over. As the audience, we are also tense, playing a guessing game along with Michelle as she still is unsure whether to trust this man.
I found Michelle a brilliant example of a strong, realistic character. From the very start when she realises she is trapped, we see her taking a moment to cry and panic, as we all would, and then she manages to snap her self out of it. She rips out the IV line from her arm and uses the drip pole to reach for her phone on the other side of the room. Later she sets a fire in the vent to give her a chance to get out. Throughout the film, Michelle is an expert problem solver, but not unrealistically so. She panics, she messes up, she makes mistakes. But one thing this girls got is determination and the will to carry on and try again, which she always does. She has a pure will to survive, and if the ending is anything to go by, she’s pretty damn brave too.
As always, it’s great to see a strong, clever, yet realistic female character in any mainstream film, let alone a thriller/horror. But in fact, all of the characters in the film are brilliantly written and performed. Howard was someone you could probably see being the ‘weird’ neighbour at the end of your street that prepares for doomsday and the Apocalypse but all in all, keeps to himself or he could be your friends Dad who’s always given you creepy vibes. And that’s the great thing about Howard’s character, he keeps you on edge. In some moments he seems kind, caring, resourceful. Perhaps he is just a paranoid older man who despite some likely anger issues and poor social skills, truly does mean well. Or perhaps he’s an angry, violent psychopath who’s purposely trapped Michelle with him to live out his sick fantasies…or perhaps, he’s both.
Emmett, another character who’s down in the bunker with them is also a very interesting character. Once again he seems real; he’s sweet, kind and funny, and doesn’t take life too seriously. And yet he’s also quietly brave and tells Michelle of his regrets of never leaving his home town or going to college like he could have.
The fact that these characters are so well written and so well performed is not only ideal for keeping the audience interested and hooked into the plot, but also helps for the theme of tension. Having characters an audience can relate to and see as human helps them to emphasise and also maybe even see themselves in the characters shoes, wondering what they would do if they were in the bunker and even perhaps by the end of the film, feeling like they actually were.
The film uses it’s juxtapositioned brilliantly. It combines thriller aspects, an unreliable character who you’re not sure if you should trust AND the real possibility of an extra-terrestrial attack on earth which is not usually seen in films. The many possibilities that the protagonist and the audience are flicking between actually could be all true at the same time. In a lot of films, it’s usually one or the other, and the fact that this film doesn’t just settle for one (and still manages to orchestrate all three perfectly) really adds a sense of depth, originality and wonder to the film as a whole. This concept actually reminded me of the ‘many-worlds interpretation’ of quantum mechanics, where it is said, in my simple and possibly slightly incorrect layman terms, that everything that could possibly have happened in our world but didn’t is happening in another universe…but I’ll stop there.
10 Cloverfield Lane is paced perfectly for a thriller, it keeps you on the edge of your seat, its scary at times, its incredibly interesting and even believable to my paranoid, conspiracy theory loving mind. Its filmed quite beautifully, with constant close-ups that add to the overall claustrophobic nature of the film. The scene at the very start with Michelle getting in her car accident was amazingly filmed, quite literally staring the film off with a bang. All in all, 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of the best films I’ve seen in a while and any film that keeps your mind ticking way after it’s over is a winner for me. As I was walking out of the cinema I was reminded of the quote in the book Catch-22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” or in this case maybe, “Just because he’s crazy doesn’t mean he’s not telling the truth” is more fitting…
Monsters come in many forms…