Amid plenty of hype, I decided to see 10 Cloverfield Lane with my good friend Hannah. This not-quite-sequel to the film Cloverfield is about a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is knocked unconscious during a car accident, only to wake up in the underground bunker of a man named Howard (John Goodman) who claims to have saved her from the end of the world. Also present in the bunker is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who is also convinced they are in the only safe place left – something Michelle does not fully believe. Life in the bunker would be fairly comfortable if not for one thing: Howard’s increasingly unstable behavior toward his housemates, and the threat of the Unknown outside the walls. While it is disappointingly lacking in diverse representation, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a beautifully executed film that takes our knowledge of Thriller/Horror tropes and uses it to create twists we don’t expect.
Director Dan Trachtenberg’s first major motion picture does a fantastic job of supplying the audience with scenes that fulfill the movie’s Thriller/Horror/Mystery genre expectations, while also consistently twisting the plot as we root for (and maybe hope against?) Michelle’s escape from Howard and his bunker. The film itself has a very indie feel to it (I personally chalk this up to Trachtenberg’s personal style and that it’s his first non-independent film he’s directed) from the soundtrack to the color scheme, which adds to the surreal creepiness naturally associated with bunkers, scary and controlling white men, and impending apocalyptic doom. The trailer (which I’ll argue after having seen the film is one of the best trailers I’ve seen in years) does a great job of capturing what I’m talking about:
The three characters you see in the trailer – Michelle, Howard, and Emmett – are the only named characters in the whole movie. There is one unnamed character who shows up briefly, but she is also white. Which means, unfortunately, this movie is as white as Minnesota in January. There is no representation – whether by race, ability, sexuality, or otherwise – that could be considered subversive to what we’re often shown in mainstream media. No Bechdel or Mako Mori tests were passed here. While many have praised 10 Cloverfield Lane for having a female lead who doesn’t become romantically involved with any of the male leads, too often it’s overlooked that saying “female lead” without acknowledging that it is yet another white female getting the part, turns whiteness into a default, a norm that we should all just expect.
Only 1/5 tweets praising the film’s female lead actually mention that she’s white, and that the overwhelming whiteness is a problem. Similarly to Karen Hollinger, I find the outpouring for feminist support of this film to be “marred by a lack of racial awareness and conscious or unconscious racism” (199). It isn’t at all game-changing to give a white woman a character for whom race is an ambiguous aspect. There was nothing stopping Michelle from being Black, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Indian, etc.
I’d also like to briefly touch on Michelle being the Final Girl. While I’m hesitant to chalk up Michelle as a simple “Scream Queen,” she does get plenty of close-ups when she’s terrified/in tears/screaming.
It’s not at all surprising considering this is a Horror film at it’s core, but it’s still worth mentioning that she does spend the last 20 minutes or so of the film (having had to watch Emmett be murdered right in front of her) scratching and clawing her way out of Howard’s grasp and his bunker. Things even get set on fire at one point.
As Carol Clover comments, this is a common occurrence where “[the Final Girl’s] scene occupies the last ten to twenty minutes and constitutes the film’s emphatic climax” (201). However, that is where 10 Cloverfield Lane switches up the game: the movie does not end with what I would consider the Final Girl climax scene. In fact, her escape from Howard is not the climax at all. In that sense, Michelle’s story does not hinge on whether or not she gets away from Howard, making her a subversion of the Final Girl trope that I really appreciated. Michelle ends up having meaning outside of being a tortured play-thing for the antagonist.
Another thing I think this movie does a great job at is choosing shots and shooting from angles that don’t sexualize Michelle. Alas, it is still a film written, produced (by heavyweight blockbuster champion J.J. Abrams), and directed by men: there are definitely scenes that cater to the male gaze, but they simultaneously work against it. Take, for example, this scene that happens soon after Michelle is brought to speed on the bunker and the supposed outside situation. Howard shows her to the bathroom and establishes his role as rule-enforcer:
What is interesting is that when Howard states that he “isn’t a pervert,” and purposefully looks away from Michelle, it was almost like you could hear the audience sigh collectively. I was fully expecting this scene, as Laura Mulvey describes, to be one where the woman’s body is used as a spectacle that freezes the flow of action as she is contemplated both by the male character and the audience as an erotic object (837). Especially since the closing shot is clearly focused straight on Michelle’s chest, bra visible as her white tank top rides low. However, she pulls the curtain closed, denying both Howard and the audience the chance to play the part of voyeur (not that, according to Howard, he would). This scene also got rid of my fear that Michelle would be subjected to sexual assault, something that is often associated with women in Thriller/Horror films waking up in a man’s home with no memory of how they got there. Never once is she touched or alluded to sexually by either of the male characters in the film.
As I briefly mentioned in the above paragraph, the audience was very reactive to this film, as were Hannah and I. She’s one of those people that squeezes your arm during high-stress scenes, while more than once I found myself whispering urgently to her, “Dude…dude what is she gonna do? Oh my god.” We ended up seeing it a 10pm showing at the Mall of America’s movie theater on a Friday night, so it was packed. Thankfully MOA has college-discounts on tickets though, so I paid $9 versus the standard $11 that tickets are during the weekend.
For the record, this is not a movie that I would watch alone for two reasons: firstly, I’m a giant baby and would have been scared out of my mind. It really is a psycho-thriller meant to play with your mind and your sense of what is and isn’t real. There’s a sense of urgency that gets heightened with every passing minute and doesn’t let up until the credits start to roll. Secondly, seeing it in a packed theater definitely affected my reaction to it since we were all feeding off the tension in the film and from each other. It made it scary, but also really fun. Everyone left the theater excitedly chattering about it, and the first thing Hannah said to me was, “Damn, you’re gonna have a lot to write about.”
Overall, I really loved this movie. It’s a smart, anxiety-inducing thriller that had Hannah and I curled up in our theater seats, cursing the predicaments Michelle found herself in, and desperately hoping for her survival. While I’m tempted to give it a 10, due to it’s lack of representation, I would give 10 Cloverfield Lane a solid 8, and a recommendation to see it on the big screen!
Clover, Carol. “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film.” Representations, No. 20, Special Issue: Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy. University of California Press, 1987: p. 201.
Hollinger, Karen. Feminist Film Studies. London: Routledge, 2012: p. 199.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: p. 837.