By Michael Quintessenza
Before I get into the formal analysis about 10 Cloverfield Lane, I first must give a brief summary of the movie. This movie is the spiritual successor to the 2008 movie Cloverfield, starring John Goodman as Howard Stambler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, and John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett DeWitt. This psychological thriller, follows the story of three people who are trapped in a bunker, hiding from an unknown attack above the surface. Howard refuses to let the other go outside for he believes the world has ended and there is nothing left in the outside world. While living in the bunker, Michelle and Emmet soon discover secrets about Howard and question whether or not he is actually telling the truth about the events that are taking place off camera.
The first aspect of this movie that I want to talk about is the actors and their performances. This movie had only three actors which put them in an interesting position having to have a whole story with such little characters. One of the main reasons I was so impressed with this film was because the amount of story and backstory the writers were able to cram into each of the characters. And the performances that each actor was able to display was unlike anything I have witnessed in recent times. To get into specifics, John Goodman as Howard was particularly intriguing. His performance along with the script did an amazing job convincing the characters and the audience that he was telling the truth and doing the right thing. At the same time, his history and secrets that the other characters slowly discover adds another layer to his character shrouding him with mystery and intrigue.
A large part of Goodman’s performance was done with the expression on his face. The way he was able to use his facial features to tell a story in this movie was superb. Using that and his acting he was able to create a truly mysterious character that kept the audience going back and forth on whether or not to trust him. And that is what I think was the best part of his character, the conflicting trust. There were many reasons for believe Howard, because of what he has done for the others in terms of taking care of them. But at the same time there was distrust for him because of his questionable past. A big part of the movie was that Michelle slowly uncovered that Howard possibly kidnaped and killed a young girl years ago. This was done because Howard’s wife divorced him and took their teenage daughter with her. Howard was very attached to his daughter and when she was out of his life, he tried to fill the void in the form of another girl, and later Michelle herself. And this is where another key character element of Howards comes up, and how Goodman did an excellent job portraying it. Throughout the film Howard would notice things about Michelle and relating them to things about his own daughter. He did this time and time again to show the audience that he’s strange and might have ulterior motives.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle was also an interesting character because she represents the audience. He story starts in a normal world until she gets into a car accident and wakes up in the bunker under the care of Howard. She, like the audience has to figure out if what he is saying is true and whether or not he can be trusted. In the end it turns out that Howard was telling the truth, there was an attack by an unknown threat and the safest place to be at the time was the bunker. But that the same time, he was not someone to be trusted because it was discovered that he was a dangerous man, with possible ulterior motives in regards to keeping Michelle alive.
The last character is Emmett portrayed by John Gallagher Jr. Emmett is an interesting character because he gives the first credibility to Howard’s story. Up until his introduction, the audience was left to trust Howards story of what is happening on the surface, with many doubting him. But when Emmett tells Michelle about how he witnessed some sort of attack from an unknown threat, suddenly this strange story seemed more possible and Michelle and the audience was able to believe the situation that they are in. While not the best out of the three actors in the film, Gallagher was able to keep up with his more seasoned costars. Unlike the other two characters, Emmett was more laid back and accepting of the situation. I enjoyed his performance because in real life disaster situations, different people deal with things differently. So seeing his character act differently from the others gave me a sense of authenticity to his performance.
This next segment is about the lighting and how it was used to add emphasis to the atmosphere of the setting. In the bunker there are different rooms all with different types of lighting to signify the different emotional tones that each room was going to have. To start, Michelle’s room started off with only one small light that only illuminates half of the room, the half that is empty. More about this room, when Michelle first arrives, like the room only being half lit, only half of the room is painted. These two visuals are used to show the uncertainty and unsafe conditions of the situation. It is only until Michelle starts to feel safe that more light is added to her room and she finishes the paint job. Now that the room is fully lit, a new tone is set upon the room.
In the main room/living room warm lights are used to fill this area. The use of these lights are used on purpose along with the furniture to convey a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. This is needed because the reason the bunker was built in the first place. This shelter was made in the event that world ends, and the bunker needs to have a safe feeling to take the residents minds off of the terrors of the events on the surface. As for Howard’s room and the hallway where the food is stored, very harsh white light is always present. This is used to put a sense of suspense and creepiness every time the scene takes place in one of those two locations.
A similar technique can be said for how natural light was used in this film. For a majority of the movie the surface is usually dark and dreary, with clouds covering the sky. It should also be noted that Michelle is the only character that actually looks outside only twice, but each had a different tone to it. The first time that she looks outside is when she wants to escape, and when she looks outside, she sees a bleak world of death. This changes her perspective on how she views the world that she thought was safe. The second time that she looks outside, she has a different view on the world. Now she has lost hope and doesn’t think the world is safe, so when she looks outside and sees a bright sunny day. Seeing this along with another key plot point, now casts doubt on the validity of Howard’s story and whether or not he is safe to be around. Later near the end of the film Michelle eventually ventures outside and just like the first time she looked out the window, the audience is put into the bleak world once again. Unfortunately for Michelle and the rest of the world, this lack of lighting and dreary setting is well deserved because of the end of the world is in fact happening. In my opinion, the use of lighting was well used to accurately display all the different emotions that each of the settings were trying to advocate to the audience.
Moving on to the design and sets used for this movie. First I want to talk briefly about the outside area. Because it was used very little, they had to use their time wisely. They decided to place the setting of the movie away from a populated area on purpose so that other characters wouldn’t be introduced, because there are not a lot of people around. The bunker was located in a very flat area, possibly farmland. This was done to get a feeling of emptiness whenever the audience gets a glimpse through the windows, or during the final sequence. Moving onto the interior of the bunker where the rest of the movie takes place. As I said before, there are several distinct rooms, all with different purposes and designs. The main room is made to feel comfortable and relaxed, and it is ironic because many tense and suspenseful scenes take place here. Michelle’s room is empty to display a sense of hopelessness and fear. The hallway is full of food and is narrow, to show a feeling of suffocation. Howard’s room is small and is hardly ever seen, to build mystery for his character. A reason I think this film was so well made was because of its set design. The minimalistic approach to this movie offered the director and set signer to focus on a small amount of areas and perfect them. Unlike other movies where scene changes constantly, this film does a great job at using the least amount possible to add to the story.
The last segment involves music and sound. For the most part this movie used sound the right way. The movie wanted to have a feeling of suspense and mystery, and that is exactly what it did. It used sound and music mainly in tense moments between characters right before something unexpected happened. Using music during those parts is a great tool that filmmakers use to get the audience emotionally involved and get their hearts racing unknowing of what will happen next. Other older songs were used during times of peace to convey a form of comedic boredom for the characters while they try and pass time. One of my favorite things they did with the sounds was how they made everything echo in the bunker. No matter where they were, if something was loud enough it would echo, to give the audience an audial reminder that the characters are in fact trapped in a small underground facility with nowhere to go.
In conclusion I personally was more than pleased with this film. Normally with films that come out these days, there are usually things wrong with them, whether it be plot, characters or script. But with this film I enjoyed all of it. It was a near perfect film that was able to keep me emotionally invested in all of the characters from beginning to end. And that is what a good movie is supposed to do, be smart, well written, well performed, and have a good ending. Fortunately 10 Cloverfield Lane did these things almost perfectly and in my opinion, is one of the best movies I’ve seen come to theaters in a while.