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Confronting Hard Decisions with 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

July 6, 2016

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You wake up in a strange room tied to pole after a car accident. Attached to you is an IV. A meal has been placed in front of you. No signs of stress or force are apparent. The person holding you captive is convinced he just saved your life from the madness taking place outside of those walls. You’re in his bunker – a specialized place built underground to protect from the sort of chaos and life threatening ills that are transpiring outside of it. You know shit’s hitting the fan, but can you really trust that this stranger is who he says he is? There’s a locked door to the outside and a ring of keys that can open it on your captive’s waistband. What do you do?

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10 Cloverfield Lane presents this scenario for viewers and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the film’s lead character, to chew on and ponder during Michelle’s stay with Howard (John Goodman) and fellow bunker mate Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) after a car accident links their paths. This intelligent sequel to the massively hyped Cloverfield works more as a psychological thriller as it does an alien horror. Our time in the universe where 10 Cloverfield Lane exists thrives in the bunker over a span of days, or weeks, or months. We’re never sure. Like the characters in the film who rarely see the light of day or the glow of night, time isn’t of the essence here. A clock is never a focal point.

Instead, the emphasis is on the relationships built between Howard, Emmett, and Michelle.  This trio must learn to live with one another when they are led to believe that they are the only people left alive after an explosion of apocalyptic proportions takes place. Together the trio experience a full spectrum of emotions, attachments, and paranoia that leads to some of the film’s best moments of intensity and shock. Through tight close-ups and a fantastic emphasis on sound coupled with a deliberate use of color and lighting, the cinematography and sound editing team concocts chilling atmosphere filled with uncertainty and paranoia.

Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damen Chazelle’s script allows its actors to fit comfortably into their roles feeding into the innocence of some and the mistrust of others. It’s here that the pressure of Michelle’s dilemma is felt in nuanced degrees. What would you do in her situation? Would you try to escape into chaotic, threatening terrain on the outside for the illusion of freedom or would you find comfort in the embrace and hospitality of a mentally unstable person who did save your life from certain death before? This was the question that rattled through my head for a majority of the film as the tension escalated and the pacing of my heart picked up.

Having only directed shorts and television episodes before, Dan Trachtenberg impressively creates confining spaces and nerve-wrecking situations for both characters and the audience. We get to know this bunker and its comforts making the thought of leaving even more difficult. John Goodman delivers a chilling performance filled with amiability contrasted immediately by his cold, explosive demeanor. All of these elements align themselves making for a fantastic film that sets itself apart, and arguably higher than the original that came before it.

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Cloverfield was a great film during its time, but relies heavily on a gimmick to withstand its core. 10 Cloverfield Lane feels like a much more mature sibling with a solid centerpiece and an impressive vision for the story and its future. Other film-goers have even tied its plot to serving as a metaphor for domestic abuse. Still, some viewers have complained about the ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane claiming it doesn’t make sense to the overall story or its connection to Cloverfield. These arguments aren’t necessarily valid seeing as the ending is the only element of the film that ties it to it’s original counterpart. It expands upon and liberates the world created by Cloverfield’s ending, setting itself up for the possibility (likely certainty) of another addition.

SEE IT. What choice would you make in Michelle’s situation?

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