So About That ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ Ending…

Yes, of course there will be spoilers here. We’re talking about the end!

10 Cloverfield Lane is a tremendous film, a claustrophobic and balanced thriller, soaked with paranoia fueling the flames of apprehension. It’s a masterfully-composed chamber horror with stellar performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman, and a pretty solid supporting turn from John Gallagher Jr.

At least it is for about 85% of the time.

That final reel of 10 Cloverfield Lane is nothing but problematic. As it stands on its own it’s a thrilling showdown between Winstead’s Michelle – free from her very troubled and ultimately layered captor, Howard – and one of the alien ships, or creatures, who has invaded the planet. But that’s precisely the problem, it stands on its own.

The buildup to the final few minutes is some of the most incredible 90 minutes of tension and misdirection I have seen in some time. As Michelle transforms from fearful prisoner, to accepting daughter-figure, to ultimate problem solver with a way to break free from Howard, Winstead never allows her character to lose focus. More observant than interactive, Michelle is forever thinking, moving her eyes as the gears in her brain churn out solutions to problems. Winstead is fabulous. And Goodman does what Goodman does; he is clearly a disturbed person in the end, but we run the gamut of trust and mistrust as Howard’s past reveals itself through deft touches in the screenplay. He is a layered, fascinating antagonist, and Michelle’s escape is earned and cathartic.

But once Howard is out of the picture in the end and Michelle is free outside, everything 10 Cloverfield Lane had worked so feverishly to perfect in the first two (and a half) acts is upended. Now, tension is thrown to the side in lieu of some heavy effects and what seem to be forced action. Michelle spots the alien ship, or creature, roaming the fields outside Howard’s home, and realizes she must now fight off this ship and the sentinel it dropped in the nearby stalks. The complete shift in tone is jarring. A suspenseful thriller has now become an alien invasion action film for the sake of shoving CGI in our face and – feebly –¬†branding this film with the original.

Fine, shift the tones, have Michelle fend off aliens and take off to Houston to help the resistance. But doing it in the final fifteen minutes of a film that had been basically a stage play to that point? It’s a caboose slowing down the entire train. When Michelle jumped on top of Howard’s car and saw the alien craft in the distance, I hoped that would be the final shot. Because it’s chilling to realize Howard was right, and you don’t know Michelle’s next move. Instead we have another ten minutes or so of action that, while well staged, is unsatisfying. And Michelle’s Molotov cocktail into the mouth of the beast is weak. Yes, I know, it’s similar to War of The Worlds. Much of this film is (the first 90 minutes are basically a riff on the Tim Robbins scenes in Spielberg’s film), but War of The Worlds was a large-scale film told on a broad canvas with hundreds of moving parts. And it was a clear allegory for human nature post-9/11. 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t interested in all that, so aesthetically it may owe itself to Spielberg’s film; emotionally and tonally, it is something entirely separate. At least until the end.

There was another end to the film Collider detailed today, where Michelle finds herself looking over a destroyed Chicago skyline. She removes her gas mask, takes a breath, and the credits roll. This would have been a perfect ending, adding mystery to a film steeped entirely in mystery. But reshoots and rewrites happen in Hollywood. So 10 Cloverfield Lane became part of a brand, a spiritual sequel to an existing film that has less than 1% to do with the first go round. But the movie is solid work from Dan Trachtenberg, a film that deserves credit for creating a thrilling, intimate look at some great characters in a weird situation. It just seems like that final reel was out of his hands in the end.

Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry is the managing editor for Monkeys Fighting Robots. The Dalai Lama once told him when he dies he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him... Which is nice.