The Best Quarantine Horror Film (in my opinion)
My name is Ben and for my first blog, I wanted to bring to light one of my all time favorite horror films, 10 Cloverfield Lane. I first watched it back in 2016 when it first came out, and although I found it brilliant, compelling, and suspenseful, I never really noticed many of the smaller details or how important they actually were. Upon wanting to watch a film about quarantines while I was stuck in quarantine over the summer, I decided to revisit 10 Cloverfield Lane for a second watch. I now have a lot more to say about this film. It’s shot almost entirely in a small underground bunker and contains a tiny cast of only four people in total. To the average moviegoer it may seem like a simple sci-fi thriller but I think the film’s brilliance and complexity stems from its ability to fill your head with doubt and uncertainty and invoke the fear of the unknown. As I remember first watching through it, I realized I didn’t know what to believe on account of most of the film having such a limited perspective, confined within a bunker. It makes very good use of that unsettling feeling of uncertainty, or the fear of the unknown. I think it is a very unique horror film in that it uses doubt and uncertainty to scare you.
I must admit, this film took me for a ride and I was suspicious of everything the whole time. I found this was mostly because of Howard, Michelle’s captor and the main antagonist of the film. I find Howard to be a very underrated and quite fascinating character. At face value, he sounds like an absolutely deranged conspiracy theorist that may not be playing with a full deck of cards. There were a couple points in the film that had me convinced his insane paranoid conspiracies are all one giant disturbing delusion of his. I realized that it was very much possible, or even the simplest explanation that Howard could be nothing more than a psycho. It’s as if the film is intentionally trying to throw you off. For the most part, Howard not only seems like an untrustworthy source of information about the outside world, but he is also the only source of information about the outside world. The only other two characters in the bunker have no memory or any way of knowing if any of Howard’s claims are true at all, and neither does you, the viewer.
Major spoilers ahead! Avert your eyes!
After kidnapping Michelle and holding her in his bunker, he justifies his actions by claiming that the Earth has been attacked, likely by extraterrestrials, and that he is keeping her in the bunker for her own safety. Would anyone believe Howard’s outrageous claims and not try to immediately escape? I doubt it, as anyone would assume him to be an unstable lunatic. But Occam’s Razor doesn’t usually apply as well to film as it does to reality, at least in the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane. By presenting Howard in this light, the film makes you doubt him, possibly leading you to the assumption that it’s all in his head, and nothing is actually wrong out there. Which is why when all his conspiracies about an alien invasion are revealed to not only be true, but frighteningly accurate, you suddenly realize Howard was right all along. Even then, the motivations for some of his actions lie deeper within his backstory. His motivation for kidnapping Michelle and locking her in the bunker in the first place is not simply out of concern for her safety, but his long-lost beloved daughter, Megan. We learn that when Howard first found out about the impending alien invasion and became extremely paranoid as a result, his wife, thinking he had lost his mind, had left him and took custody of Megan. By kidnapping Michelle, he is attempting to fill the hole that Megan has left. So in a sense, when we are first thrown into the film, we’re presented with two main possibilities. Either Howard is a psychopathic and delusional control freak, or the even scarier possibility that he actually knows what he is talking about and that the world really has ended, and everyone you have ever known or loved is dead. As we are given more clues about Howard’s past and upon Michelle’s escape from the bunker, we learn that technically, both possibilities were simultaneously correct all along.
One particular scene stood out to me as not only remarkably tense but incredibly misleading as well. Few other films have ever managed to make me feel such a false sense of security, and it is largely because of this one scene. I’m referring to when Howard finds the scissors and tape used to make a makeshift hazmat suit. He confronts Michelle and fellow bunker-mate, Emmett about it, and immediately suspects them of plotting against him. What makes the scene so unbelievably tense is almost purely in the way it is framed. When both Michelle and Emmett are being suspected, the camera cuts back and forth between them with Howard in the frame, almost as if we’re viewing things from his perspective and he is trying to sniff out the traitor. When Emmett decides to take the blame for Michelle, her and Howard are no longer in the same frame, indicating she has been cleared of suspicion and Emmett is now the one on the hook. Because Howard is holding a gun and no one knows what he is capable of, shots without him in frame give more of a sense of security. When Emmett apologizes to Howard, who seemingly calms down, we cut to a shot of Emmett and Michelle looking at each other sharing an expression of relief. At that very moment, right when the film has you thinking things are starting to de-escalate, a Howard’s gun suddenly pops into frame and Emmett is shot dead on the spot. From a filmmaker’s perspective, I just had to make note of this scene as remarkably effective. Its framing technique managed to lull me into a false sense of security after all that tense confrontation, only to leave my jaw hanging as one of the three main characters meets his abrupt end.