10 Cloverfield Lane
Doomsday shelters are like vacations: It sure is nice to share them with someone.
Howard's shelter is as cozy and comfortable as an apocalyptic abode can be—a last-resort resort, if you will. It's got a jukebox, board games and a fully functioning kitchen. Water runs from the faucets. The lights work. The air filtration system hums quietly in the background. Howard knew the day would come when his shelter would be the envy of the masses. A place where people would die—or kill—to live in.
Now, he knows, that day is here. And while he can't say exactly what brought on the end of the world—whether a military attack, an alien invasion or a natural catastrophe—there's no question that it has come. The world outside these walls (his walls) is dead or dying.
"As of Friday, kindness and generosity are antiquated customs."
That's what he says.
But he couldn't leave Michelle out on the road to die, could he? Of course not. When he saw her there, unconscious in her wrecked car, he had to pull her out and take her home—even with the Four Horsemen bearing down on him. And so he did.
It's sad to him, then, that as he patiently explains to Michelle how he saved her life—how she owes him, literally, everything—she just sits on her mattress on the floor, staring at him as if he was the bad guy. Granted, her new bedroom is a little rough, what with its cinderblock walls and heavy metal door that locks from the outside. And, yes, she's chained to the wall. But that's only temporary, he tells her. For her own safety.
"What are you going to do with me?" Michelle asks.
"I'm going to keep you alive," Howard tells her. He throws her the key to her shackles and walks out, shutting and locking the heavy door behind him.
And Michelle is left to wonder which poses the gravest danger: the world outside … or the world within.
Michelle and Howard have company in this doomsday shelter: Emmett, the young man who helped Howard build the thing. And over the days and weeks that follow, he and Michelle develop a strong friendship—one that eventually forces one of them to offer up the ultimate sacrifice.
While Emmett seems like a pretty all-around good guy from the get-go, Michelle grows during the course of her confinement. Before she showed up in Howard's bunker, she tended to run away from problems; by the time 10 Cloverfield Lane wraps, she's able to stand up—both literally and metaphorically—to the dangers that surround her.
Emmett speaks of seeing strange lights outside that, he believes, suggest the end of the world. "Like something you read about in the Bible," he said. And Howard insists that his elaborate bunker doesn't make him crazy. "Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come," he says.
Howard often compares Michelle to his daughter, Megan. He talks about her all the time and seems to want Michelle to fill the void she left in his life. But with that in mind, Howard's interest in Michelle can feel … creepy. He says, "I'm not a pervert," but he clearly feels something for the young woman … and the nature of that attraction, though it's never explicitly stated, is a central source of tension here. He warns Emmett not to touch Michelle (even after she stumbles and would've fallen otherwise) and flies into a rage when Michelle flirts with the guy. And it's worth noting that when Michelle first wakes up in the bunker, she's wearing only underwear. And her white tank top shows her bra and cleavage.
Some of that might make you question Howard's relationship with his real daughter—though when asked what became of her, Howard simply says that "her mother turned her against me" and the two moved elsewhere.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a mystery on a couple of different levels, and is a tense, harrowing movie with fleeting scenes of brief-but-visceral gore. While the grotesqueries we see do not technically push the PG-13 rating, they can feel worse than they look because of the movie's sometimes overwhelming intensity.
[The rest of this section contains spoilers.] Michelle is knocked off the road by an unseen force, tumbling down the hillside in a jarring scene. She wakes up with an injured knee and a bloody wound on her head. She tries to stab Howard with the sharpened end of a crutch and breaks a bottle over his head. The glass cuts Howard's forehead pretty deeply, and Michelle must then stitch the guy up—an operation we see the beginning of. Howard grabs her hair and pushes her into a wall a couple of times.
There are explosions. Someone is shot and killed. (We see blood on the doorframe behind the victim.) It's suggested that the body is then dissolved in a barrel of acid. That acid gets knocked over, burning the face and arms of someone terribly (and possibly contributing to death). Shelves are pushed over on top of someone. A woman pounds on the door of the shelter, her face mottled by some unknown toxin, begging to be let in. (They don't open up for her.) Dead pigs lie in their pens in the front yard, their flesh bloodied and deformed.
Michelle talks about how she saw a father hit his daughter. (It reminds her of her own abusive upbringing.) There's talk of abductions and murders. And then there are the aliens. (See, I told you this section had spoilers in it!) There seem to be two extraterrestrial beasties, both very interested in devouring people and even things (like cars). They chase and threaten with their super-freaky mouths. One has a Molotov cocktail thrown down its gullet which gives it, you might say, an explosive attack of indigestion.
Crude or Profane Language
"Watch your language at the table," Howard scolds Emmett. And everyone seems to take those words to heart for much of the movie, even away from the table—with a few notable exceptions. There's one f-word, two s-words and one each of "b--ch," "d--n" and "h---." God's name is misused a handful of times, once with "d--n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see Michelle leave her husband, taking a bottle of liquor while leaving her wedding band behind. Howard drinks vodka he distilled himself, offering some to Michelle. After a sip, she discovers the concoction is disgusting and refuses any more. Emmett tells us that on the day he was supposed to leave for college, he purposefully got so drunk that he wouldn't wake up in time to catch the bus.
Other Negative Elements
The shelter's bathroom is a bit too public for Michelle's (and our) comfort. And Howard hovers close by the curtain-covered area when he forces the woman to use it.
Fear is the common denominator that brought Howard, Michelle and Emmett together in the tiny doomsday bunker at 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Fear drove Michelle out of her apartment and away from her husband. "We had a fight. Normal couples fight," the man tells her over the phone. But instead of dealing with the aftermath and trying to correct whatever was wrong, she fled.
Emmett's fear didn't make him run. Instead he stood still because of it. A track star in high school, ironically, Emmett received a full scholarship to a nearby university. But the idea of college intimidated him, so he passed on the scholarship and never showed up. He's spent his whole life, he tells Michelle, within a 40-mile radius of home.
And, of course, it was the fear of a worldwide cataclysm that inspired Howard to build the bunker in the first place.
10 Cloverfield Lane plays on our fears, too—the fear of the unknown, right along with the terror of what we know all too well. This is a horror movie, both intimate and sprawling in scope. And as a horror movie, it works. It works too well, perhaps.
And in doing so it proves two important points:
First, you don't need a lot of explicit content to make a grip-the-armrest-'til-your-knuckles-turn-white kind of movie. It pulls you in because of the way it feels more than what it shows. There's nothing inherently problematic about seeing a vat of acid or a scratched word on a window, after all. It's what these images suggest—what they threaten—that digs at us.
Second, it reminds us that an entertainment's problematic content isn't always the easy-to-decipher litmus test we might like it to be.
10 Cloverfield Lane has less actual content than your average superhero movie. But while I know lots of parents who wouldn't blink at taking their 10 year olds to see an Iron Man movie, this is another psychological story entirely.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle; John Goodman as Howard; John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett
Dan Trachtenberg ( )
March 11, 2016
June 14, 2016