10 Cloverfield Lane proves that horror isn’t dead; it just suffers from laziness.
Lazy writing, lazy cinematography, lazy actors, and lazy directors: All things absent from 10 Cloverfield Lane. Some may refer to the film as sci-fi but any science fiction elements only serve as a backdrop to the horror story of one woman’s claustrophobic fight for survival.
Let me walk you through the bunker in 10 Cloverfield Lane first. It’s very easy; the director knows how to use colour association, something that’s often neglected in horror films. First we start with Michelle’s quarters, a barren room that consists of drywall and a single mattress. We move from the orange incandescence of her room into the blue florescence of the hall where Emmet sleeps amidst food rations. From there we move into big Howard’s multi-colored and cluttered abode, which we have to pass through in order to get to the grungy green steps that lead out of the bunker. It’s a simple tool, but I can only think of two recent horror films, The Descent and The collector that used colour association effectively to help the viewer get situated in the horror.
One of the other unfortunate things about recent horror is that they tend to lack any real composition to what on the screen. It’s rare that we see something like this, or this in horror anymore. Most of the images in horror are static and boring: A shot of a woman tripping over a root, a reverse shot of the persistent killer. But, the characters in 10 Cloverfield Lane are always framed in such a way, that the viewer knows who’s in control of the situation. For example: There’s a moment in the film, and trailer, where all three characters are seated at a dinner table, with our heroine seated in the middle. Goodman’s character, Howard, is a delusional psychopath with romantic leanings, and the other man, Emmet is a charming and well intentioned idiot. They sit opposite one another because both are vying for the heroine’s attention. She’s centered in the frame because she holds their attention, and therefore the power—she also holds the keys out of the joint.
Later in the film Emmet and Amy realize that Goodman’s up to something nefarious, they speak opposite one another across a jukebox, a cross stitch overhead that reads “Home Sweet Home.” Enter Howard, who not only interrupts their conversation by picking a song from the jukebox, but also places himself in center frame: The place power. This isn’t groundbreaking, but framing and composition are often forgotten in horror, which tends to lead to confusing and jumbled action.
Normally the villain in horror is nothing but an abhorrent monster, but Howard has redeeming qualities. Sure he may fly off the handle, but he brings ice cream afterwards to make up for it—For those that haven’t seen the film, I’m being facetious. He doesn’t see himself as a villain: He just expects something in return for all that he’s given her. He even shaves and puts on a nice shirt to get her attention in the last act of the film. The only critique some people may find is his size and lumbering pace, but I found it added to the tension, because speed is no matter when you’re stuck in a 500 sq ft bunker.
And while Goodman’s character is certainly gelatinous, there’s no fat on the script. A seemingly arbitrary conversation about a ticket out of town serves as catalyst for our heroine to make her move, and another conversation about home-made moonshine proves to be the key to helping her escape. Hell, even the jump scares in the film actually serve a purpose, and have a lasting, disturbing effect on the audience. Admittedly, most of the film is a slow burn, but I like that. It has enough to keep the audience empathizing with the characters, mostly because none of them are do anything ridiculous.
All in all, the movie isn’t great because of the characters, but because of character decisions. I remained involved in the story because no one made any an inconceivably stupid moves, which is something that’s all too common in horror. Michelle proves her metal with actions; within the first act of the film, she starts a fire in her bunk in order to escape, a la Aliens—a film that 10 Cloverfield Lane pays a lot of homage too. She even tries to skewer Goodman with a sharpened crutch. She fails, but she tries, and that separates this film from a long list of other ones, which expect the audience to cheer for the whimpering cheerleader on the mere principle that she’s the protagonist.
I’ll be the first to admit, horror has sucked lately. Filmmakers have saturated the genre with the same trite shit, over and over. Paint by number slasher flicks or ghost movies that operate off jump scares have flooded the market. So it’s refreshing as hell to see a movie like 10 Cloverfield Lane that cares about colour, composition, writing, characters and ultimately character interaction. A movie where you’re actually cheering for the survivor and not the killer. So if you want to watch a survival horror movie that favors suspense over gimmicks, it’s more than worth the price of admission.
Oh, I almost forgot: It has nothing to do with Cloverfield.