Mary Elizabeth Winstead in ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’
WARNING: This article is filled with BIG SPOILERS for 10 Cloverfield Lane. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know what happened, stop here!
With a title like 10 Cloverfield Lane, you’d expect that J.J. Abrams’s latest Mystery Box would be a neighbor of Cloverfield, the Abrams-produced, Matt Reeves-directed found footage version of a Godzilla movie that became a surprise January hit in 2008. And even though Hollywood’s reigning box office king has stopped short of calling this new movie a sequel, he recently told Entertainment Weekly that he considers it a “spiritual successor” to the original, which ended with the invading alien monster seemingly bombed to smithereens by the U.S. military. In the same interview, Abrams also reveals that the film began its life as an original script that they “developed” into a story, which had echoes—if not necessarily direct references—to Cloverfield. (The original script, by the way, was called The Cellar, and the project was also referred to as Valencia.)
Still, Abrams’s cautionary words haven’t stopped rampant speculation about how the two films link up. And the opening moments of 10 Cloverfield Lane suggest a certain amount of continuity, with the film’s heroine Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) fleeing her apartment in a hurry. Turns out that she’s not running away from any invading aliens, though. Instead, she’s ditching her boyfriend, Ben, before he gets home. Piloting her car down the Louisiana highway, dodging Ben’s voicemails (Bradley Cooper provides the voice of the jilted lover), Michelle hears broken reports about bizarre power surges on the East Coast, where the Cloverfield monster originally made landfall. But before she—or we—can really process that news, her car spins wildly out of control and crashes through a guardrail.
When she wakes up, she’s locked in a bunker under the watchful eye of burly mystery man Howard (John Goodman), her apparent jailer who insists he’s her savior. A hard-core survivalist, Howard has built an underground refuge that boasts a well-stocked larder, as well as a television, board games, and a jukebox. It’s a good thing they’ve got so many distractions, because they’re not going above ground anytime soon. According to Howard, a chemical attack has rendered the Earth’s surface uninhabitable for at least a year, and possibly longer. While he could have claimed the place for himself, he graciously decided to welcome in two roomies: his neighbor Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and Michelle. But is he telling the truth? Will Michelle escape this heavily fortified lair? And what will she find when she’s outside?
After a roughly hour-long cat-and-mouse game, during which Michelle plays nice with Howard while also plotting various ways out of the bunker, the final act provides the answers. In order, they are: Kind of; Yes; and Aliens. See, Howard had lured at least one other girl to his underground lair, a girl he claims was his daughter, but turns out to have been a friend of Emmett’s that went missing two years ago. Her current absence–plus the few souvenirs she left behind–suggests that he’s only too happy to dispose of his “roommates” when he’s done with them. (He further proves that by calmly shooting Emmett through the head after he confesses to swiping supplies that Michelle actually took.) Still, Michelle and Howard have first-hand evidence that the air outside is contaminated with something. During an earlier escape attempt, they witness a dying woman racing towards the bunker bearing scars that could be the result of a chemical attack. So when Michelle finally makes a successful escape, she makes sure to bring along a homemade Hazmat suit that she’s sewn together in secret out of an old shower curtain and whatever odds and ends she could scrape together.
Bursting out of a locked trapdoor—while the bunker, and its owner, are consumed by a fire she started—Michelle surveys Howard’s remote property. After a near-scare with a rip in her Hazmat suit, she hears birds singing and realizes that she can breathe freely. She doffs her mask and enjoys a brief moment of happiness that immediately ends the moment she scans the horizon and spies a decidedly non-man made spacecraft heading toward a cityscape that’s flashing with blinding lights. While trying to get in her car to beat a hasty retreat, Michelle instead sets off the alarm, which attracts the alien craft’s attention. She searches for refuge and finds it in a wooden shed that also happens to house the decomposing body of the woman she saw rushing the bunker earlier. Through the slats, we get a better look at this monster, which is an entirely different beast than the spider-like critter that rampaged through Manhattan in Cloverfield. It’s like a cross between a beetle and a squid, with a probing sensory organ that seems to function as both its ears and mouth.
After the creature moves away, Michelle emerges and stares up at Howard’s farmhouse. The place starts to shake as a ship passes overhead, spewing green gas in its wake…the gas that Howard spoke of with such certainty. So back on goes Michelle’s Hazmat suit, and she scrambles to climb inside her car, which is immediately seized and lifted aloft by alien tentacles. She’s on a direct course for the creature’s mouth, when she jerry-rigs a Molotov cocktail and tosses it down the gaping maw instead. The alien goes boom and Michelle experiences her second car crash as her vehicle plunges back to the ground.
Related: ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ review
When she wakes up this time, though, she’s still at the steering wheel. Peeling away from Howard’s ruined property, she runs over the address sign in the driveway, which reads—you guessed it—10 Cloverfield Lane. Fiddling with the radio, she picks up an emergency broadcast signal, which reports that human forces have “taken back the Eastern seaboard,” a possible reference to the “Hammer Down Protocol” air strike that the U.S. military called in at the end of Cloverfield. The voice goes on to say that any Southern survivors can head to Baton Rouge, but those with medical training should head west to Houston, Texas, where “there are people who need help.” Pulling up to a crossroads, Michelle pauses for a moment, and then makes a left turn and heading to Houston rather than continuing on to Baton Rouge. As she drives away, lightning flashes in the distance illuminate an entire fleet of alien ships moving amongst the clouds.
It’s an ending that allows the 10 Cloverfield Lane creative team—which includes Abrams and director Dan Trachtenberg—to have it both ways. On the one hand, this doesn’t have to be part of the same alien attack that was launched against Manhattan. But it would stand to reason that an extraterrestrial invasion would expand beyond one city. (For those curious how The Cellar ended, The Film Stage has posted an analysis of the two scripts.) The fact that the ending specifically references a resistance cell in Houston provides a setting and premise for a third film. How about it, guys? Can we look forward to Cloverfield Night Lights in 2018?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead talks the ‘emotional rollercoaster’ of ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’: