10 Cloverfield Lane is the strangest of movies because it tells an exceptionally original story. Most stories aren’t particularly original, even when they’re profoundly good. Movies like Star Wars or Fury Road are great films, but their structure makes sense in retrospect, their plots have a particular familiarity. That’s not a criticism: a perfectly made steak is not any less delicious because it’s familiar. But when so-called fusion food works, I mean really works, it blows your mouth buds away because two great tastes somehow got transformed into something unique from the sum of the parts. And I’m not just talking peanut butter and chocolate.
10 Cloverfield Lane is The Room mixed with an alien invasion story, which makes absolutely no conceivable sense on paper. But it’s wonderful.
The brilliance of the movie is in the way that rather than being a slow march towards realizing John Goodman’s insanity, it twists back and forth, so that evidence makes him seem absolutely sane, then other evidence tells you otherwise, and then back again. It’s dramatically effective because instead of being a constantly ratcheted up tension, there are releases and returns to normalcy. And because we know on a meta-level that this movie has “Cloverfield” in the title, we as an audience are never quite sure whether the resolution is going to be with Goodman redeemed, damned, or somewhere in between.
In addition there’s the way that there are so many layers to the fiction, in the way that it plays with information. There are things Goodman lies about. There are things he tells the truth about. There are things he is right about. There are things that he is wrong about. So by the time Winstead inevitably escapes from the bunker she is working with a ton of assumptions that are wrong, mixed with ones that are dead-on accurate.
And while the film necessarily revolves in many ways around Goodman’s phenomenal turn as both creepy and sympathetic, the movie is driven by Winstead’s exceptionally strong and resourceful character. She wakes up in hell only to learn that it is her only protection from an even greater hell. What she goes through is harrowing, but at every single step of the way she’s calculating her next move. Every bit of information, every little tool or resource that can be squirreled away, her eyes are constantly twitching from place to place, working out the exact words to say and the precise moves to make and when.
Like Monsters, the film takes a small and personal story and sets it with grand events unfolding as the background rather than the backbone of the plot. It tells a story the way normal people live their lives: small in scale, but nonetheless important. The thing about the end of the world is that it’s always a private apocalypse. The fact that zero or a million others are sharing in that end doesn’t change the scale of our personal infinity.
This is a film that begins with a woman running from a failed relationship, tells of her regrets of not standing up for people she saw being abused, and ends with her blowing up goddamned aliens and making the decision to go where the fight is rather than promised safety. It could be subtitled Finding your Furiosa and you should go see it.