There are many ways to watch 10 Cloverfield Lane because it works on a number of levels, but at heart it’s a Hitchcockian thriller that showcases three talented actors who are able to carry a film with very few set pieces and little to no help from anyone outside of their trio (or, outside of the bunker, as it were). As the marketing campaign explained, “Monsters come in many forms,” and this thriller demonstrates how true a statement that is, no matter how the film is read by the viewer.
The film can be viewed through a lens of domestic abuse. It can be viewed through a lens of mental health and PTSD. It can be viewed with questions as to who the real villains are, questioning if the straightforward reading of the film is correct. And it can be picked apart for clues and “Easter eggs” that begin to piece together this Cloverfield “universe” that is beginning to take shape with two films within it so far.
Fans of Cloverfield may remember the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) which consisted of a web of fake Internet sites that revealed background information about the characters, the company that one of the protagonists was working for, and other bits of information (some related to the story and some placed to mislead, confuse, or simply make the websites appear legitimate). Bad Robot decided to take this route again, with one of the lead characters having an employee of the month spotlight on his company’s site, cryptic voicemails posted on reddit by people associated with the film, and other weird sites that require passcodes and such, like FunAndPrettyThings.com. It seems finding the connections from one film to the next, as well as answering some of the many questions that the new film leaves the viewer with, has become a preoccupation for many people, as there is a well trafficked reddit page devoted to finding these clues and sharing theories.
However, one need not enter the wormhole to enjoy this film. The claustrophobic thriller can be appreciated with no knowledge of the “spiritual” precursor (remember, this is not in any way a true sequel) and no connection to the ARG. As a standalone, it shines as an example of how great acting can turn a tight script into a brilliant film. John Goodman, already widely praised for his expansive range and remarkable on-screen presence, plays an extremely hard to read and unsettling middle aged man named Howard whom has created his own “doomsday bunker” with the help of local contractor Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr). Upon the catastrophic events that Howard describes early on as an unknown attack from the likes of the Russians and/or aliens, a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whom has left her home after a fight with her boyfriend (an entirely off-screen Bradley Cooper), gets into a horrible car accident. She awakes in what appears to be a cell.
Moving forward from this point, the three actors play an intricate cat and mouse game in Howard’s bunker. What is and isn’t true is vague. What really happened in the “attack” is unclear. And, whether or not the world outside of the bunker is safe to experience is one of the greatest mysteries of all. As it unravels, some of these answers become clear, while others are muddied even further. New questions and concerns arise from moment to moment. Simply put, neither the characters nor the viewer ever receive a singular clear picture of exactly how the events before, during, or after the film transpire. And the film is all the better for it.
As with all things Abrams, there are science fiction/fantasy elements in the story, which would be expected not only because of the producer’s previous work but also due to the name and connection with the kaiju film from several years back. However, with or without this element, the film can stand as a tense thriller that is sure to have viewers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end.
When the reveal comes of exactly what is going on outside of the bunker, the viewer’s sentiments echo those of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle who utters a simple and profound, “Fuck.” And with Howard being a protective father type who takes issue with foul language (at one point he remands Emmett for using the words “turd” and “damn” in a playful discussion at dinner), it may actually be the only utterance of the word in the film, which likely brought with it a lot of the power and profundity of its use at that moment.
With few foul words and zero sexual content, the film clocks in at a PG-13 rating, which is likely for the sheer horror in some of its implications, as well as a handful of somewhat disturbing visuals (a chemically burnt face, for example). However, despite many parents allowing their younger children to watch films with a PG-13 rating, this is a tense and frightening film that shouldn’t fall into that category. The most appropriate classification of the film would be as a thriller, but one wouldn’t be incorrect to group it also with films in the horror and science fiction categories.
Try your best to go into this film spoiler free and experience it for what it is, first. Then, later, begin to dive into these other questions and lenses (as this reviewer has been engrossed in for the past few days since seeing the film). A rewarding cinema experience that is highly recommended to fans of fresh and interesting takes on the horror, science fiction, and thriller genres.