Saturday, February 24, 2018
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10 CLOVERFIELD LANE: A Hitchcockian Thriller For The 21st Century

The inner urge for survival is the most primitive of all impulses. For the longest time, sex was believed to be the driving force that pushes people, unconsciously and fully-cognizant, towards certain results in life. But after WWII especially, psychologists and holocaust survivors began to revisit the idea, and psychoanalysts took the obvious cue from Darwin:

The inner urge for survival is the most primitive of all impulses. For the longest time, sex was believed to be the driving force that pushes people, unconsciously and fully-cognizant, towards certain results in life. But after WWII especially, psychologists and holocaust survivors began to revisit the idea, and psychoanalysts took the obvious cue from Darwin: survival of the fittest is indeed the underlining motivation of human identity. Without trying to oversimplify or negate all of the other physical and mental complexities that make up the human experience by leaving them out of this equation, the bottom line is that no matter what other intricate factors are in play, human beings will do whatever it takes to remain alive.

A scrunity of survival is put through the ringer in a surprise film that virtually nobody knew existed until just a few months ago. 10 Cloverfield Lane, a spiritual sequel of 2008’s Cloverfield, as some have called it, is a Hitchcockian-type thriller that is simply one hell of film. It embodies so much of Hitchcock that one can still see his indelible fingerprints on modern cinema, some 36 years after his death. The movie is a taut thriller mostly confined to a singular, claustrophobic interior and enclosure, making for one of the most cinematic films this hipster-cinephile has seen in a long time. It’s intellectual, cerebral, energetic and most importantly, a well-executed masterpiece of motion pictures.

Step Inside The Great Below

One Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is on the lam, running from problems that aren’t given specific detail when her car is involved in an accident. Michelle wakes up in an underground bunker run by a former satellite tech, Howard (John Goodman). Howard is a bit of the nut variety, though is coolly played so expertly by Goodman that he becomes a real human being, and not just a monstrous baddie (though perhaps he is).

The only other person in the film and cellar is Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), a country bumpkin who helped Howard build his subterranean ark in secret. Michelle is quickly informed by Howard that the world she once knew is over and done, as some cataclysmically apocalyptic event befell humanity. It’s up to Emmet and Michelle to weather the alleged storm outside, and keep from breaking Howard’s totalitarian law inside the bunker. This small setup has the word brevity written all over it, and has just the right structure for excitement and horror. 

source: Paramount Pictures

source: Paramount Pictures

The project of 10 Cloverfield Lane is a fascinating one, as it was in development for years. Damien Chazelle was initially attached to direct, and had taken a few stabs at the screenplay. But once he got financial backing for Whiplash, Chazelle left the project and executive producer J.J. Abrams brought on first-time director Dan Trachtenberg. Trachtenberg‘s directing is amazing to behold because it is nothing short of brilliance.

Major props should be given to Abrams for trusting in his untapped skill. He utilizes and shoots the camera with a depth of field that properly understands the constricted perspective of the premise, while also moving the camera about and holding still during the right beats. The edits are sharp and focused, aided immensely by composer Bear McCreary’s dramatic score that ratchets the tension and nerves up past eleven.

Since 10 Cloverfield Lane is a basically a three person play, it would’ve been easy for the film to fall apart had the cast not been picked to perfection. Not to sound-off with hyperbole and an overreaction, but Goodman is need of a serious Best Supporting Actor nomination come 2017’s Academy Awards.

As per usual and previously stated, Goodman becomes the character, and one fully believes in his truth. He has the wicked side down, as disgusting as it is, but he still manages to find a place for subtlety – and that is rare in most Hollywood stars. Yes he plays Howard larger than life, but in dire circumstances the survival drive can bring forth unexpected stimulants which boost the ego, making a lion out of a monkey. There is duality in him that the other two characters don’t possess.

That isn’t to say that Winstead and Gallagher Jr. and their characters aren’t up to snuff with Goodman’s, because they have equal weight and levity in the picture. What Emmet brings is a wide-eyed and willful ignorance that lets some humor and air into the circulated narrative, which could stifle the thrills. Without Gallagher’s believability, the film implodes. But it’s ultimately Winstead who carries the film from the opening shot to the closing moments, and wow does she deliver. She’s as good as any other A-lister working the silver screen today.

Motif Motivations

Since this is a spoiler-free review, one can’t go into giving away the big twists and turns in the film, and that is a challenge with a movie that is covered in the unknown and was birthed out of J.J. Abrams’ notorious mystery box. But there was one motif that quickly became apparent, something openly subtextual, that screams to be discussed. Those who have seen 10 Cloverfield Lane know what the hidden elements are, and most seem convinced that this is where the movie loses some of its charm. But let this brief analysis act as a different type of interpretation, that reads the larger moments as very integral and necessary for Michelle’s arch and the conceit of the movie.

The film starts off and ends with the appearance of alcohol, and by the very end it becomes of most vital importance. We never learn why Michelle has left her family and husband or fiancé, but what we do know is that there was an argument. While packing up her belongings, one of the last things she grabs is a bottle of whiskey. Inside the cellar, Howard is seen drinking his own homemade vodka, even offering Michelle some. And then during the denouement the whiskey bottle comes back into the picture as a means of salvation, ultimately bringing Michelle full circle on her journey.

source: Paramount Pictures

source: Paramount Pictures

Michelle could be seen as a survivor, since the second she wakes up in Howard’s bunker she attempts to escape. But it isn’t so much that she is standing up to her problems as she is retreating from them, and in certain situations retreat is certainly preferential to staying and fighting. But the larger get is the symbolism of escape from certain social conventions, which is carried over into the bunker which she spends the majority of the movie trying to get out of. There is a doubling up of meanings and images here, with little happening onscreen and a lot happening underneath.

Esoterically and ambiguously mentioned earlier that 10 Cloverfield Lane borrows much from Hitchcock, the one movie that almost immediately comes to mind is The Birds. In The Birds, the main character Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is metaphorically on the run, and the birds that attack her and the citizens of Bodega Bay are manifestations of her isolation and despair. The exact same thing is going on in 10 Cloverfield Lane, as revealed when Michelle gets her big break.

Howard is a metaphor of her internal flight and self-hostage, as is the exterior world’s threat. There is a figurative and literal thread that connects her and her abandonment, and it winds up wreaking havoc on the world within and without. It’s as if Michelle has to go through a ritual of sober awakening to find herself, and in turn choose to go back or stay underground.

This leads to the motif of booze and drinking. There’s drinking for social reasons, which as parties go are the biggest examples of conformity. But then there’s drinking for annihilation reasons, to destroy and to be set from personal bondage. Again, it is in this doubling of visuals and similes that Michelle is both a creator and survivor of her woe. Yet it brings her around to reveal to the audience the need for community; no matter how much we hurt one another, we need each other to out-live life’s many forms of monsters.

Summation

10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie-lover’s wet dream. It boldly tackles still to this day taboo issues of alcoholism while also being a straightforward thriller. Keep director Dan Trachtenberg in your sights, for this guy is just breaking into the art of blowing people’s minds, and is the closest we’ll get to having a living Hitchcock.

Are you seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane in the theater or waiting for home release?

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

A bi-product of passion and experimentation gone wrong, Mike has spent most of his time in the field couch surfing and growing a comb-over. Several of his favorite films are Rashomon, Vertigo, Apocalypse Now, and The Naked Gun.

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