Disclaimer: I did not watch the original Cloverfield before this one. But, as far as I can learn from the interwebs, the two have hardly anything to do with each other besides the name and J.J. Abrams. The original was a straight-up Godzilla-style monster movie, and this is…well, a different kind of monster movie.
It begins with our heroine, Michelle, hurriedly packing up and fleeing her apartment, leaving an engagement ring behind. As she’s driving on an empty country road, ignoring calls from her fiance, she is suddenly struck from behind by something and crashes. When she wakes up, she’s hooked up to an IV in a small, cell-like room, where she’s soon greeted by a man named Howard. Howard claims to have saved her life by bringing her to the bunker underneath his farmhouse, just before a chemical or nuclear attack contaminated the air outside. Another man, Emmett, also managed to take shelter in the bunker in time. The rest of the world as Michelle knows it, Howard says, is gone.
But nothing in this movie can be taken at face value. From the beginning, the central question on both Michelle and the viewer’s mind is: Can we trust Howard? He’s clearly anti-social and a little odd from the beginning–as you’d expect from someone who spent years building a doomsday bunker under his house. But is he a crazy-prepared survivalist who took pity on two neighbors when his doomsday prophecies came true? Or is he just crazy? What, if anything, is really going on above the reinforced concrete ceilings of the bunker? And what secrets might be hiding on the inside?
The movie delights in dancing around the answers to these questions, which keeps the suspense high throughout the first two-thirds of the action. The three-misfits-stuck-in-a-room-together premise certainly allows for some lighter moments, but the claustrophobic setting, the hints of an unknown danger, the eerie soundtrack, and especially John Goodman’s acting as Howard, all combine to create a creeping sense of dread that gets stronger almost by the minute. Seriously, I never realised how amazing John Goodman is. Who knew the voice of Sulley and Pacha could carry a movie like this so effectively?
I also have to take a moment to talk about Michelle, though, because she’s one of the best horror/thriller heroines I’ve ever seen. Even though she starts the movie as a wannabe fashion designer with a history of running from her problems, from the moment she wakes up in the bunker she starts being endlessly resourceful, brave, and determined. Injured leg, creepy armed host, possible apocalypse–nothing stops her, at least not for long. It goes beyond mere survival instinct, too, as she consistently goes out of her way to try and protect others. She’s basically Ripley without the power armour.
And, since this movie only has about three characters, I gotta say something about Emmett, too. He’s great, both as much-needed comic relief and as bona fide hero when the chips are down. I also appreciate that the movie doesn’t try to shoehorn a romance in between him and Michelle, even though they might possibly be the only young man and woman left on the planet. You have to respect any product of Hollywood that avoids a romantic subplot with that kind of set-up.
And now we come to the hard part of this review. See, this is one of those movies where the ending is likely to change the way you feel about everything that came before it, for better or worse. And the Movie Reviewers’ Code forbids me to give away the ending. Plus, I’m a little conflicted about it myself. I will say this, though: if you’re familiar with J.J. Abrams’ other original work, you will probably be able to guess certain things about the ending pretty far in advance. As for whether it’s good or bad–I can’t decide, but I’m leaning towards good. On the one hand, it does drastically change the tone of the movie, which feels a wee bit like a cop-out. But on the other hand, it gives Michelle a great chance to show off her character development, and the tone it switches to is one which I generally like in a movie, especially at the end.
You, the viewer, will have to decide for yourself. But however you feel about the last 15 minutes of 10 Cloverfield Lane, everything leading up to them is fantastic. In a heart-palpitating sort of way. For sensitive viewers: there are very few moments of violence or gore on-screen, but when they do occur, the movie really makes them count. Then again, this movie can also make a game of Taboo scary. If you live in a basement, as I do, you may not want to watch this alone. As I did.
My dreams have been just fine, thank you very much.