‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ (2016) Review
Underground homes evoke images of polished but gnarled wooden doors leading to cosy rooms with crackling fires and uneven walls, that would not look out of place in Hobbiton … but how about concrete, nuclear bunkers with bright strip lighting and tins of baked beans in terrifying numbers?
When protagonist Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens in a grey, hostile room after a car accident, she is unaware that her abode for the foreseeable future is just that: an underground home. Needing proper medical attention, her apparent captor, Howard (John Goodman), refuses to release her, citing chemically poisoned air outside as the reason. Sceptical, she ventures beyond her cell when opportunity arises and discovers an amiable young chap called Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) who confirms Howard’s tale of post-apocalyptic air contamination.
Saviour or Kidnapper?
Their refuge/prison is a hybrid of cute hobbit home and austere nuclear bunker. Disturbed by the food mountain in the purpose-built store room, assuming it is indicative of the length of her stay, she continues to explore and discovers a compact but homely dwelling beyond the store.
Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut, ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ is produced by J.J. Abrams and is an unofficial sequel to ‘Cloverfield’ (also produced by the latter). Like its predecessor, it excludes us from explanation until the end and even then, Trachtenberg is tight-fisted with his revelations. Throughout, the scales of truth seem evenly balanced between Howard as a saviour and as a kidnapper and unlike ‘Cloverfield’, we are lulled into contentment with scenes of domestic bliss, only to be jolted into tension-filled angst, just when we thought we could breathe again.
Michelle is torn between fear of Howard and that of the outside and so are we. Winstead plays the part cleverly, acting within her acting role in her character’s attempts to double-cross him. Goodman’s imposing physique and gruff looks are perfect as strict father figure/evil psychopath, as is his ability to terrify anyone smaller than him, which is most people. Gallagher Jr provides light relief with Emmett’s geniality, whilst managing to impart a slight distrust, as our loyalties lie with Michelle and we empathise with her wariness.
Nuclear War and Human Needs
The theme of nuclear war may not be as topical as it was in the last century, but it is still fresh enough to provide tension within the confines of a thriller. Regardless of the ending, Howard’s character is not far-fetched; it is not unthinkable for some to wish to prepare themselves for a nuclear attack. The film also makes you ponder human needs; again, regardless of the true nature of the situation, Howard is prepared and wants for nothing. Emmett, probably by virtue of his easy-going nature, is naturally accepting. Michelle is the only one whose overwhelming desire for freedom makes the movie a story. Despite her basic needs being fulfilled, she feels bereft and like us, wonders if her perception of the world is being controlled by Howard.
But if you’ve ever hankered after the intimacy of an underground hobbit house, your perception of these delightful abodes may change forever ...