Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Show and Tell: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Warning:  I really don't know that there's a way to discuss this movie without giving away some spoilers.  Perhaps a better writer could pull it off, but I'm not that guy.  With that said, here there be spoilers.

In fact, let's just get perhaps the biggest spoiler out of the way right now.  10 Cloverfield Lane is not a sequel to the 2008 found-footage monster movie, Cloverfield.  I loved Cloverfield and was one of the many who were excited by the chance that J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot managed to sneak a second helping under our noses without us noticing.  Alas, this was not the case.  If that's enough to turn you off to seeing this offering, however, you're missing out on one hell of a ride.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane tells the story of Michelle, a woman fleeing her life in New Orleans.  When she gets into a bad car accident, she wakes up in an underground bunker built by Howard, a former member of the Navy who has spent a considerable amount of time building a fallout shelter designed to protect him in the event of widespread disaster.  Joining them is Emmett, a local man who helped Howard build the bunker and sought refuge when apparently Howard's worst fears had come to pass and the outside world was now unlivable.

Without giving away too much detail, the most interesting aspect of 10 Cloverfield Lane is that it posits a chilling question:  What if all of those paranoid doomsday preppers who horde food, water, and guns in preparation for global catastrophe actually got it right?  What if we were in fact struck by a potentially planet-killing disaster where the only refuge was in one of these bunkers?  Would that make a prepper any less psychologically damaged?  Or would the sane people be just as screwed inside the bunker as out of it?

In a movie aimed at keeping us guessing about this question throughout most of the movie, John Goodman is perfect casting for the role of Howard.  He's adept at playing either the lovable oaf or as a full-tilt psychopath, and he balances between the two for most of the running time.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead also gets a chance to shine as Michelle.  Rather than whimper in a corner for 90 minutes, she routinely proves tenacious and resourceful, which comes in particular handy when the train completely derails in the final act.

Also, lest anyone think my perspective on doomsday preppers has been shaped solely by a movie, allow me to direct you to the book Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse by James Wesley Rawles.  Please don't ask me why I had to read this book.  I'm actually afraid that I'm on a federal list because I purchased it.  But for a novel that's trying to extol the virtue of "preparation," it primarily provides a window into right-wing, gun-fetish insanity with a dash of racism tossed in for good measure.  In fact, if you really want 10 Cloverfield Lane to scare you, go ahead and read Patriots first to give the movie a "oh shit, these people actually exist" type of veracity.  On second thought, don't do that to yourself.  The movie is plenty creepy without it.

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