Here’s a fun fact for you: despite doing Geography as a GCSE I am rubbish at naming the US states, or knowing where abouts in the country they are. In fact, the little that I do know comes from films… I know that Manhattan is somewhere near the sea (thanks Titanic) and that Texas is on the border of Mexico.
When a cinema date was suggested, I chose 10 Cloverfield Lane as the film of the night. As I was a big fan of ‘Cloverfield’ (released way back in 2008) I assumed this film would be the same sorta thing. Similar name, similar graphic for the title… Had to be near enough the same film, or so I thought.
Despite my very limited knowledge, while watching 10 Cloverfield Lane it was glaringly obvious Louisiana, where the film is set, is a southern state. Much has been made about Hollywood’s treatment of the Southern states in cinema… the south has always been ‘the other.’
While the north of the USA is shown as the blonde, fun, good time gal with a successful husband and truly Christian children; the southern states are undeniably shown as its evil twin. Christianity becomes cult-like, friendly neighbours become wolf-like in their pack mentality. The north USA stretches out toward the rest of the world, yet the South leans inwards; delving deeper inside itself, intertwining all of its people, areas and events and becoming more suspicious of the outside world and its modern ways.
10 Cloverfield Lane incorporates all of the stereotypes of the South. A young woman named Michelle crashes her car while running away from her relationship and its problems to awake in a perfectly stocked underground shelter. Arguably the best character cinema has given us in a while; Howard (played by John Goodman of Flintsone’s fame) introduces himself to us. He is Howard. He saved her life, and she should be thankful.
Howard, who claims to be ex-navy, devoutly believes the world as he knows it is under attack. He’s not sure how, or whether it was perpetrated by the Russians or Aliens, but he knew it was coming. As such, he built a bunker – with its own air filtering system- and began storing masses of food. The only other character is Emmet. The high school track star of his day, who let fear get in the way of chasing his dreams. Spending most of his life in a none-descript fashion, he worked with Howard to build the bunker, and forced his way inside when ‘the attack’ happened.
In such closed quarters the group psychology has devolved back into an animal like hierarchy. Howard is the eldest, the biggest and undoubtedly the boss. Emmet could be funny; he could be easy to get along with if he was not constantly shown as the runt. With a broken arm (which both he and Howard sketchily claim ‘he did to himself’) and an unsettling submission to Howard’s every demand – he hints at the horror simmering below the surface. The main story revolves around whether or not Howard is right. Are they lone survivors or hostages of a deranged man?
It would be easy for an actor to portray Howard as a slightly-ridiculous-yet-dangerous conspiracy theorist. Yet Goodman shows him to be much more than that, he is shown as devotedly believing in his idea the world has been attacked. He is a man with a fragile ego, craving respect while hankering back to his days in the armed services. He is shown as paternal, with hints of incestualized longing. Michelle, a woman in her twenties is gradually infantilised, and eventually dressed in ‘his daughters’ clothes. The issue of this daughter is another mystery that weaves its way through the plot. Did Howard have a daughter, or a previous captive that was still a school girl?
The underlying tensions, mysteries and hints of danger work well… What doesn’t work is the ending. Without giving away any spoilers, it feels as if the writer of this script started well, then remembered with only minutes left on his laptop battery that the film was supposed to be a Sci-Fi. As such, he took the first vaguely scientific idea his ten year old son could muster, and threw it in alongside some special effects.
If 10 Cloverfield Lane had set out to be a psychological thriller it could have been fairly successful, yet its last ditch attempt to be Sci-Fi ruins it beyond saving. If you want to watch a film, but don’t have time to watch a full movie; this could be the one for you. Watch it if you want, but don’t worry about getting to the end of it.