PUBLISHED 22 AUG 2016
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE was a massive risk for the filmmakers involved. By rights it should have become yet another generic exercise in Hollywood horror filmmaking, but in spite of using all of the classic tropes and thematic elements of the genre, it was a box office success. The anthology film sequel to CLOVERFIELD (Matt Reeves 2008), follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whom after a car crash finds herself in a bunker with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and the strange but seemingly kind Howard (John Goodman). It appears an apocalypse has taken place, and they remain there waiting to hear word about what has happened. Howard appears to have many secrets and becomes increasingly paranoid about Michelle and Emmett’s growing friendship as they plan to escape.
While 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is Trachtenberg’s debut feature, he has clearly been strongly guided by Bad Robot, JJ Abrams’ production company and the company behind the film. This is especially obvious in the soundtrack. The enormous, whimsical and science fiction score by Bear McCreary resembles those of STAR TREK (Abrams 2009) and SUPER 8 (Abrams 2011). However, the best use of sound in the film is the silence, which reflects the characters’ growing realisation of the possibility that everyone may be dead and symbolises the loneliness they begin to feel.
As Michelle and Emmett begin their escape plans, we are invited along with them. While many classic horrors use dramatic irony to bring the audience to the edge of their seat, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE rejects this strategy, placing us in the characters’ shoes in order to create empathy. The fear becomes personal as it does not feel like we are watching someone in danger, but experiencing it ourselves.
Emmett and Michelle’s suspicions of Howard are also unconventional to the horror genre, which often creates suspense from the ignorance of characters. This results in the characters not being dumbed down for the purpose of cheap suspense. Character and personality development are very important as too often characters become unoriginal and boring, which is especially the case with horror. Michelle does not clearly fit into one of the usual two-dimensional stereotypes; she is willing to fight, is physically strong even when injured and is more determined to find out Howard’s history than Emmett who is happy to live in blissful ignorance. Michelle calculates their escape, using her insight and talents to their advantage. She is no final girl screaming until someone comes to save her.
At first, the antagonist of the narrative is an unknown entity, as there appears to be no physical presentation of a villain. When Howard begins to show signs of duplicity, it becomes clear that he may be more of a danger to Michelle and Emmett than the potential risk of the world above. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE constructs fear as betrayal and cleverly questions the trust the characters have established. It leaves the characters with two options: risk themselves inside or risk themselves against the unknown.