“Monsters Come in Many Forms”
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Starring John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr.
Following an argument, Michelle (Winstead) leaves her home – in an opening scene clearly derived from Psycho – and drives through rural Louisiana, where her car is hit and pushed off the road. She wakes up, chained to a wall in a bunker belonging to Howard (Goodman), a prepper who tells her he saved her life from an attack by party or parties unknown which has left the world’s air contaminated. The two of them and Emmett (Gallagher), a young man who helped Howard to construct their shelter, are sealed into the bunker to wait out the worst.
Michelle is unconvinced by Howard’s story and recalls that it was him who drove her off the road. She attempts to escape, only to see a woman with horrific injuries try to break in, and is further disarmed when he admits to hitting her car in his rush to reach the bunker. Emmett believes the stories of an attack, having seen a blast above a city, but agrees to help Michelle create a hazmat suit when it becomes clear that Howard previously kidnapped and murdered a local girl to act as surrogate for the daughter who was (probbaly) taken away by his estranged wife.
Howard realises that something is going on and kills Emmett when he takes the blame for stealing tools. Michelle is able to escape, but although the air is not contaminated is attacked by aliens in a biomechanical hovercraft, which she is able to destroy with a Molotov cocktail. Heading north, she hears a radio broadcast and is faced with a choice: Keep on north to safety, or go east to join the fight. She turns east.
What’s wrong with it?
This is very much a film of two parts, and ultimately the two do not quite jibe. The opening half is like a prequel to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt without the jokes, and the truth of the world outside is sufficiently irrelevant to the horror within the bunker that everything that happens once Michelle escapes feels disconnected; almost as if the movie were failing to end in its right time.
The film is a victim of its connections. Being called 10 Cloverfield Lane and associated with found footage idiot ball relay Cloverfield it never really occurs to the viewer – at least not a viewer who has any knowledge of the earlier film – to doubt that there has been an attack, which in turn means that the question of whether Howard is a serial killer always feels slightly secondary.
What’s right with it?
The film, essentially a three-hander, is well-acted, with John Goodman on especially fine form as the knuckle-popping cauldron of rage that is Howard.
Winstead’s Michelle – referred to by her ex-fiance as ‘Chelle’, which given Trachtenberg’s association with Portal fandom is a hell of a thing to consider – is not quite the new Ripley, but the barefoot, hazmat-stitching Michelle is a pretty good example of a strong female lead. She works Howard with courtesy and discretion, and Emmett through reason and evidence. Intelligence is her weapon, not sex appeal, which is why she is as adept at defeating an alien monster as a human one. In fact, this is notably a film with a female lead and basically no romance subplot, so props for that.
The claustrophobic bunker setting is well-realised, and the film juxtaposes space and constraint well. The bunker is shelter, but also a prison. Outside is death, then welcoming, then death again and as the aliens attack, Michelle is forced to find another small space (a shed) to hide in.
How bad is it really?
Actually, it’s pretty good. Its only glaring problem is the odd disconnect between the two parts of the film, with the outside scenes feeling like a long and only vaguely related coda (and the impact of the bunker scenes lessened by the nagging awareness that, yes, aliens.)
Best bit (if such there is)?
The three bunkermates are playing a ‘guess who’ type game. Howard starts telling Emmett that he is always watching him. He sees what he is doing (by this point they are making the hazmat suit) and knows what they are up to. Emmett blusters, a rabbit in headlights, before Michelle twigs that this incredibly sinister tirade is Howard playing the game and blurts out: “You’re Santa!”
What’s up with…?
- The alien bioships? Do they go in space as well? With a mouth on the outside?
Production values – Really superb. The film has a wonderful look to it. 4
Dialogue and performances – Excellent performances are sometimes let down by a script that does the job, but lacks sparkle. 6
Plot and execution – The two parts of the film are each effective, but they never really mesh together properly, leaving the two halves of Michelle’s story disjointed. 9
Randomness – Bioships? I guess they needed something that could convincingly be hurt by fire. 3
Waste of potential – With just a little more attention to the join, this could have been something special. As it is, it’s a perfectly good thriller with a gonzo SF twist. 6