Throughout the short history of Hollywood, artists have drawn upon real life tragedies regularly. Horror movies especially have a particularly strong take on events. Hell, last year, who could escape the It Follows marketing and revelation that the film was about STD’s? Jason, Freddy, and Michael always punished the “bad kids” for drinking, smoking, and fornicating. Very rarely, their actions led to mass PTSD that effected those not associated with the inner sanctum of characters. Sometimes they did. At one point in the series, Haddonfield tried to cancel Halloween when they realized it drew back Michael Myers for slaughter. Crystal Lake tried to change its name to Forest Green. Both were silly logical steps and never really dealt with the root cause…but I bet it made some politician happy for keeping youth safe!
In the summer of 2005, Steven Spielberg released his take on the War of the Worlds. It was to be an epic film, dabbling in the hopelessness and fear that happened as we watched 4 planes get hijacked and wrecked on a sunny morning in September 2001. Soon, Hollywood followed suit with other films also depicting devastating battles and happenings to large amounts of people. In 2008, Matt Reeves took us through New York as a giant monster ripped it apart in Cloverfield. Cloverfield achieved cult status quickly. Maybe it was the rabid fans it created with its ARG (Alternative Reality Game) prior to its release. Maybe it just managed to capture how many of us felt in 2001 perfectly: scared and too small for the events happening around us. Maybe it was just because we like to see cities get destroyed. Either way, the film offered no answers to the origin of the beast. Its audience was just as much in the dark about the events unfolding around these people as they were. The ARG offered potential answers but nothing is officially canon (which makes the story telling more impressive).
While 10 Cloverfield Lane is not an “official” sequel to that movie, it’s a continuation in how we (as a society) are effected by massive events around us. 10 Cloverfield Lane is the Patriot Act to Cloverfield‘s 9/11 imagery. It’s more character driven, less flashy, and translates well to old and new audiences. (SPOILERS) It’s connections to the first film are fleeting but exist. Watching both films back to back, I firmly believe we have a continuous story here.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane follows a group of 3 survivors of an “attack”. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a young heartbroken woman. After leaving her fiancee, she is fleeing to parts unknown. A car crash on a lonely country road sidelines the escape and she wakes up being held captive by the strange Howard (John Goodman). He informs her that there has been an attack and introduces her to the other resident there, Emmit (John Gallagher Jr). It turns out that the group is in an underground bunker and is waiting out the effects of a chemical attack above. Howard is a survivalist and has been preparing for this for years. Emmit assisted him in building the bunker. After seeing the first signs of attack, he fled to the bunker as Howard was sealing it and “fought his way in”. As the two men have already accepted the attack, Michelle plays the doubting Thomas role and thinks there is something much more sinister at play here.
The film’s tagline is “Monsters Come in Many Forms”. Howard walks a tightrope of being a savior and being a maniac in 10 Cloverfield Lane. While his actions saved their lives, his demons cloud his judgment and twist his morals. While 9/11 was a surprise, the twist was that it led to a quite intrusive fringe of thinking to become mainstream: We must protect ourselves at any cost. We passed horribly encompassing legislation to circumvent previous laws. We held onto accused combatants without trial and spit on what we tried to build here over 200 years ago. We began a path towards becoming “monsters” ourselves. We didn’t do this because we intended to be “monsters”. We accepted Big Brother because…safety. We did this because we were scared. 10 Cloverfield Lane explores this logic wonderfully. Howard is a broken man. He was right (about the attack)… but does that make him right? His smugness exudes from his madness and superiority. Emmit lets Howard abuse him in the name of safety. Michelle, on the other hand, sees the value of what Howard offers but also sees the storms brewing below the surface. Safety in captivity can be comforting, but it can also be quite dangerous.
While Cloverfield tried to fit character development into its story, 10 Cloverfield Lane focuses on the characters primarily. Howard is an intriguing character to say the least. I’ve had a soft spot for Goodman for years and he kills in this role. While you see the once likable aspects of the actor and character under the surface, it is far below a hardened shell of….something. We don’t really get an explanation for why Howard is the way he is. We just know that his life has been spiraling out of control for a while now. Winstead plays the hero role well. Her mind is always moving as she chameleons to the aggressor. As the movie progresses, she becomes more brazen. I’m not sure if it was because she sees the madness that Howard or if she, too, is slowly losing her grip with reality. Gallagher Jr is Emmit. While not putting a ground breaking performance on film here, he is solid and holds his own with the other two.
Finally, we need to talk about the end. Yes. There are monsters. They aren’t deep sea monsters like in Cloverfield. They are aliens. They are aliens that are strangely reminiscent of the monster in the first one. In my mind, I’ve already connected the two movies. Emmit describes what he saw as a red flash. He immediately fled to the bunker. We are shown that Howard was once employed by Bold Futura (a company from the Cloverfield ARG). Howard “knew” the attack was coming but didn’t know if it was Russians or if “those martians finally figured out how to get down here”. If you look very closely at the thing trying to eat Michelle, well, it sure looks like Clovie shoved into an aircraft. Imagine what we must look like to other creatures when they see us getting into cars, planes, and motorcycles. Are the two movies connected? In my mind…yes. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an extension (and probably is happening) simultaneous to the events in the New York. Just like the first movie, we are offered no official canon stances.
Do you need to be a fan of the first movie to see 10 Cloverfield Lane? No. It’s a great stand alone film in its own. Connect it to its predecessor, however, and it continues the theme of the first movie while maturing it realistically. The performances are wonderful and carry the film. But, if you are looking for definitive answers on what roles Tagruato, Seabed’s Nector, and whether the monster in the first one was of this planet….you aren’t going to get them. There’s just more questions.