The Horror Honeys: Sci-Friday ~ The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

Sci-Friday ~ The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review by Katie

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Monsters Come in Many Forms.

So states the poster tagline for the new sci-fi stepchild of Matt Reeves’ 2008 monster movie Cloverfield, the quaintly titled 10 Cloverfield Lane – a place where monsters of all sorts may potentially reside. But first-time director Dan Trachtenberg takes his monster movie in an entirely new direction; far from the perils of a sprawling urban environment as seen through the shaky-cam first person narrative of Reeves’ film, into a rural fallout shelter protected from the outside world. The trio of characters who are run aground at 10 Cloverfield Lane must battle the most destructive monster of all – the paranoia lurking inside their own minds – in order to unearth the truth behind their dire circumstances. Daring to venture down many hypothetical avenues without ever leaving a single place, Trachtenberg houses a multitude of scares within just one address – resulting in a film that is terrifying both for the real world as well as the world of science fiction.

10 Cloverfield Lane opens far from its titular location with a brief and dialogue-free sequence that speaks volumes in just a few brilliantly edited images: a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) receives an upsetting phone call, hastily packs some bags, and leaves an engagement ring on a table before speeding away from her old life toward an unknown future. One traumatic car accident later, she wakes up chained to a wall in an impenetrable underground bunker built by an ostensibly friendly yet suspicious survivalist, Howard (John Goodman), and local bearded yokel Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.). Howard explains that he saved her life after the accident, and brought her to the bunker to protect them from a widespread chemical attack presently occurring in the outside world – an attack that cannot be sufficiently explained, nor can it be attributed with complete certainty to either man or extraterrestrial. Howard’s claims cannot even be adequately proven, as the bunker doors need to remain sealed for the safety of the three inside. So what’s a girl to do… trust the men who are holding her captive – supposedly for their own survival – or risk a daring escape to confront the possibility of encountering a different kind of monster in the outside world?

I don't know, he *seems* totally trustworthy... 
The best thing about this premise is that either scenario is entirely plausible, and Trachtenberg has a lot of fun leading the audience down a multitude of wayward paths before the film’s ultimate truths are revealed. Howard occasionally comes off as a crazy doomsdayer, but he prefers to simply think of himself as well-prepared: “crazy,” he declares, “is building your ark after the flood has already come.” The outside air is supposedly poisoned and unfit for breathing, but characters occasionally think they can hear signs of life – including cars and helicopters – traversing the area above them. Red herrings, misunderstandings, and suspicions abound; this leads to the forming of covert alliances, questioning of one another’s backgrounds and motives, and the concocting of secret plans. Every new piece of information seems to contradict or upend something that was previously accepted as truth, which means the audience is often in the dark as much as the film’s unwitting protagonist. Those who prefer their cinematic ‘monsters’ to be clearly defined are cautioned to avoid the situation unfolding at 10 Cloverfield Lane, because Trachtenberg is adept at pulling the proverbial rug out from under you at the precise moment that you think you’ve got it all figured out.

What was that!?
And now we need to talk about Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has built a solid reputation as a modern-day Scream Queen for more than a decade in genre films from Final Destination 3 (2006) and Black X-Mas (2006), to Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007) and the prequel to The Thing (2011). As Michelle, the captor-turned-heroine of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Winstead more than holds her own against the domineering physicality of Goodman, who is a revelation in his own right as Howard. Michelle is not a put-upon damsel in need of rescuing; she’s a shrewd, resourceful, and creative problem-solver with killer instincts and a keen ability to MacGyver her way out of any given predicament. As a lead character who takes initiative and thinks quickly on her feet, Michelle is a welcome addition to the collective of Ripleys and Furiosas out there in cinemaland – the sci-fi/horror heroines who refuse to go quietly into the night.

She may be tiny, but she's tough.
Whether or not an actual monster does grace the screen in 10 Cloverfield Lane, the film has already carried on the thematic traditions of some of the very best science fiction stories – most notably, those portrayed in episodes of The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling’s The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street showed us as early as 1960 that the worst monsters we tend to fall prey to are the ones living inside our own minds, consuming us with fear and paranoia. Though it doesn’t go quite as far in its attempt at gut-punch irony that The Twilight Zone was so well-regarded for, Trachtenberg’s first feature as a director is a welcome addition to this particular brand of psychological sci-fi, and the first truly thrilling genre film of the year. More like this please, and make sure they star Miss Winstead.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four doomsday bunkers out of five.

Have you seen 10 Cloverfield Lane?