Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher, Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
In a scene near the end of the film, its protagonist and now an action heroine, jumps atop a car and looks across the cornfields at the sky. We will see what she can see later, but her reaction is a useful indication in the direction: she mutters a feeble “Come on!” to lament the absurdity of the film’s situation. Within a second, we share her vantage point: a murderous alien spaceship floats in the horizon, letting off wafts of green poison into the dusk sky. This is a remarkable turn of events, but it isn’t merely just that (a “turn of events” is a routine accomplishment for a contemporary Hollywood film, which therefore, must be upped); for it is also a sudden shift in genre, and dare one say, in the type of film itself. Suddenly, our present title has mutated, through a single, smart cut, from a closed room, thus tense, knife-wielding slasher film to a drama about resistance against alien invaders.
This is great fun, of course, and seems as if to have been done with a very specific, conscious purpose in mind: that to underline Hollywood’s strict genre-based codification or iconographies. And therefore, the setting changes: the ominous, olive, smoke-filled skies replace the steel-interiors; our protagonist’s sleeveless white vest is replaced by a hazmat suit; the earlier monster, an overweight, squint-eyed, automaton-pervert relays the baton to a penile alien hunter.
10 Cloverfield Lane holds plot in high regard: it is what they call, a “high-concept” film, driven entirely by its premise, in the absence of an actual, evolving story or a continuous narrative. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, effective, cynical) is driven off the road by a truck when she is distracted by her phone while driving, and wakes up inside a prison-like enclosure to realise she is being held captive. She expects Jigsaw to walk in and concoct an existential challenge, but finds instead Howard (John Goodman, incredible, plays him as a man with mechanical joints), a paranoid, compulsive safety-maniac who informs her that he has saved her life by letting her in into his bunker, since the air outside is contaminated by through a nuclear, or chemical attack.
She is sceptical of his apocalyptic hypothesizing and will therefore spend the duration of the film in attempting an escape. In this quest, she is joined by stray hippy-mechanic, Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr., content to be the foil), who exists like most third characters exist in slasher-dramas: as audience-proxies that allow our lead characters to register details of their mental state, their revelations, the status of their escape plans, etc. with the spectators of the film.
The film’s greatest accomplishment — notwithstanding its superfluous, sequel-inducing epilogue — is the remarkable consistency of tone (director Dan Trachtenberg) with which it is constructed. It sustains a slowburn gloom throughout its considerable runtime, through its characters’ schemes, their counters, tender filial recollections, the first signs of Stockholm Syndrome, of faith, and then, the discoveries of murder, moments of violence and ultimately, the film’s renovation into a new genre. The layout of the bunker assumes significance: characters reside and function in small oblongs, separated from each other almost always by walls, thick doors, metal meshes or curtains — this means they discern each other’s presence largely through sound: footthuds, heavy breathing, tumbling shelves and turning knobs.
The narrow, space-shuttle floorplan also means the film’s narrative is distilled through objects in tight close-ups: wood shavings, trembling trolleys, a gasmask hidden inside a ceiling-vent, traces of blood, an earring used to scrape a plea for help inside of a plexi-glass exit. Needless to say, this is Horror 101, but conducted effectively, it helps the film invest in a coherent tapestry of surfaces - this is perhaps of paramount importance in any film where characters organise themselves around the prospect of bodily injury, physical damage, and eventually, death.