10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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*. A film buff could really go to town on this one. I mean, the kind of film buff who likes to think of all the other movies the one he’s watching reminds him of. That’s the kind of film buff I am.
*. So, to get started there’s Misery, with Michelle being “saved” from a car crash by a good Samaritan who will have a hard time letting her go. There’s The Collector, just for the basic set-up and Howard’s curiously asexual attachment to Michelle. And there’s Saw, for that feeling you get waking up in a strange, dingy place with a chain attached to your leg. I’ll bet Michelle has seen that one. A movie she probably hadn’t see was Retreat (2010) which had a similar type of story. She may have read Hugh Howey’s novel Wool (2011), the first in a series of books dealing with a post-apocalyptic society living in a silo, with the underground dwellers unsure of exactly what is going on in the word above them.
*. Then there is the way that such confinement stories had suddenly become culturally prominent. The horrific true cases of Joseph Fritzl, Natascha Kampusch, Ariel Castro, and Jaycee Dugard all made headlines around the same time, and the Fritzl case was the inspiration for the novel (later film) Room.
*. All of which suggests that this is a movie of the zeitgeist. What made it so?
*. After the U.S. presidential election in 2016 there was much talk of groups who lived “in a bubble,” and “fake news.” In retrospect, this may have been the fruition of a trend that had been developing over a couple of decades. People, and not just young people, had become increasingly comfortable with living within a digital envelope, of spending more time in virtual space than reality. Reality was unpleasant, even dangerous. I think this is what made all of these stories dealing with silos, bunkers, bubbles, or whatever, resonate so much. The audience could relate to people who were removed — by force or by choice — from the World.

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*. There are other timely themes that the movie effectively mines. Once again, as with so much contemporary horror, there is the ill-disguised hatred of the family unit. Poor Howard. He just “wanted us to be a happy family.” In time, he thinks Michelle will come to be a useful cook. Of course, such a view is of the same age as his fallout shelter, and only registers as perverse.
*. Another theme is that of the tragedy of preparedness. This is a phrase I’m taking from E. M. Forster’s Howards End, and it’s worth quoting the full passage as it does seem to bear on this movie: “Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere. With infinite effort we nerve ourselves for a crisis that never comes. The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is no that of a man who is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never taken. On a tragedy of that kind our national morality is duly silent. It assumes that preparation against danger is in itself a good, and that men, like nations, are the better for staggering through life fully armed.”
*. I really enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane. A lot of people dislike the ending, but I applaud the producers for diving right into the deep end and not going the more art-house route of ambiguity (though that might have been interesting too). I even like the ending despite pretty much despising Cloverfield, so that the hook into the “Cloververse” was no big thrill. But Michelle standing on top of the truck and saying “Come on,” at the end was the best moment in the film for me.

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*. The cast has to carry much of the load, and they do a good job. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has those cartoonish cute eyes that seem to have an unnatural amount of white in the pupil. I could watch her all day. Her character takes resourcefulness to pretty extreme levels, but we shouldn’t underestimate anyone who has actually picked up some practical skills as part of their education.
*. John Goodman is bear-like in his den, but I thought Howard lacked range. He might have at least tried to charm Michelle in a clumsy way, but aside from the ironic hits on the jukebox like “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Tell Him (That You’re Never Going to Leave Him)” this is a movie barren of comic relief. Maybe it was felt that Goodman and the two cuties were enough on their own.
*. Just to round things out, John Gallagher Jr. is fine as Emmett, but I didn’t understand his character at all. In sum, looking at the three leads together I’d have to say that the cast is better than the script.
*. It’s a curious film, but in a good way: both very serious and very silly. Perhaps more by accident than by design I think it might last.

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