10 Cloverfield Lane (which may or not be related to 2008’s Cloverfield), the latest film from director J.J. Abrams’ studio Bad Robot Productions, poses a very interesting question: Is it better to be stuck in a bunker with a possibly psychotic doomsday prepper or take your chances on the outside with poisonous chemical gases and/or Russian terrorists and invading extraterrestrials? They’re not the best options, and this is the secret to the movie’s effectiveness as an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
The movie opens with a dramatic montage suggesting that Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the heroine in this case, is packing up her life and leaving her fiancé for god knows where. She’s a runner, you see, a quality that might bode well for her since she’s about to be stuck in the stickiest of situations. Her melodramatic exit from her life is soon interrupted by a traumatic car accident. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a makeshift prison, her leg shackled to a wall and an IV drip attached to her arm.
The man who claims to have saved her is named Howard (the always-effective John Goodman), a paranoid former Navy officer who informs her of an apocalyptic situation outside—the details of which are intentionally kept a mystery. His motives are questionable, but this is his house, so she must play by his rules. But there’s also another man, a bearded charmer named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), whose own worrisome demeanor suggests that Howard might not just be paranoid at all. In any case, Michelle is a prisoner of both Howard and sheer circumstance. And it doesn’t help that he keeps bringing up a dead daughter in their conversations, a phantasm of his past that she might be the obvious replacement for.
In the vein of the Stephen King classic, Misery (which was adapted into a movie in 1990 starring James Caan and Kathy Bates), 10 Cloverfield Lane is a claustrophobic escape film, where the protagonist must muster up the will to survive amidst tense physical and emotional hindrances. From the get-go Michelle is portrayed as an escapist, a woman who easily flees from situations when shit hits the fan. Like watching a mouse navigate its way out of a manmade maze, following Michelle as she tries to come up with solutions to this predicament is simultaneously fun and nerve-racking. The danger only heightens as somewhat predictable twists and turns unfold, revealing that she might actually have nowhere to run. And once Michelle is backed into a corner, the only thing left to do is for her to face her fears head on.
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