This article contains heavy spoilers for 10 Cloverfield Lane. Proceed with caution.
Let’s start near the end, with a furious swerve of the steering wheel, and a battered mailbox that reads “10 Cloverfield Lane.” A road opens up into emptiness, leaving first-time director Dan Trachtenberg a choice. He could juxtaposition the loud, booming alien sequence minutes earlier with the serenity of outstretched road and let it hit the ears of the audience like a cold bucket of ice water. Instead, in a film in which Trachtenberg doesn’t waste a single frame, he leans on Emmy-winning composer Bear McCreary who opts for a big sound, reminisce of Marius Constant’s iconic jingle that greets viewers as they enter The Twilight Zone.
The film doesn’t end there, though maybe it should have. As review after review came in (including ours) comparing 10 Cloverfield Lane to the seminal sci-fi series from Rod Serling, I expected the car to drive us straight into the credits. I was gushing over the thought of the film opening us up to what lies beyond only to cut us off and question how we got there in the first place, harking back to the lessons of The Twilight Zone. For 106 minutes, Trachtenberg gave us a tour of what was “not a new world,” as Serling utters in the opening narration of “Obsolete Man,” but “simply an extension of what began in the old one.”
The world was bigger than I thought — far beyond three characters in search of an exit. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle learns a resistance is out there and suddenly the road begins to look slightly less lonely, putting a fork in J.J. Abrams’ mystery box. There’s an allure to an anthology series under the mystique of the “Cloverfield” banner as many fans and critics are calling for. However, with the breakout performance of Winstead and the undeniable directing talent of Trachtenberg, there’s also an opportunity to continue Michelle’s story and build an unlikely alien invasion story, which unless Independence Day 2 blows us away, is a premise that’s been a mixed bag so far this century.
Even after 10 Cloverfield Lane was released, Abrams remained cryptic on the future of the Cloverfield “brand,” if you can call it that.
“There is a larger idea that we’re working on that would be really fun if we could see through,” Abrams told LA Times. “Hopefully that can happen, but in the meantime, the ‘Twilight Zone’ comparison is flattering and hopefully appropriate one.”
The comparison is accurate. Serling’s Twilight Zone is as much of a predecessor for 10 Cloverfield Lane as Matt Reeves’ polarizing 2008 found-footage film. In fact, there’s no better time to cross over into The Twilight Zone and consider the parallels of one of the episodes that could be the spiritual cousin of “Cloverfield.”
“What you are about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen, it’s the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen. But in this place, in this moment, it does happen.” – Rod Serling’s opening monologue in The Twilight Zone’s season 3 episode, “The Shelter.”
One of the more cringe-worthy aspects of John Goodman’s gripping performance as Howard in 10 Cloverfield Lane was the neurotic, meticulous way he planned for the fallout. A year’s worth of food. Pasta sauce. Chicken. Ice cream, bowl or cone. Michelle and John Gallagher Jr.’s Emmett have plenty to find off-putting about Howard. Granted, he’s of another generation, a military man old enough to have lived through the Cold War. We get not-so-subtle hints from Emmett that Howard was not only bracing for a nightmare, but either had an intuition it would happen… or sort of wanted it to happen.
Howard’s relationship to the bunker echoes “The Shelter,” penned by Rod Serling and directed by Lamont Johnson, which taps into America’s post-World War II nuclear fears. The episode aired just months after the Berlin Crisis of 1961, when after a threat of Soviet nuclear warfare, President Kennedy went on national television and told the American public to ready fallout shelters in case of attack. It takes place at the suburban home of Dr. Bill Stockton, who after bragging about his fancy new bomb shelter is faced with the prospect of fending off his neighbors for the use of it as unidentified flying objects barrell towards the United States.
Like Howard, Stockton has his rations. Two weeks, tops. In another parallel, the air in the bunker can only reasonably fill the lungs of three. What about Stockton’s paranoia? It’s evident from the first confrontation with a neighbor looking to find safety his family. He put time aside week after week to build the shelter while the rest of the block for failed to admit that the worst was possible. As it relates to Howard, this is where the audience can at least partially sympathize with him. He had the foresight to build a shelter and puts in the work to keep his bunkmates (or captives) safe, and gets beat down for it. For Michelle and Emmett, once the normal routine of the bunker was broken by the revelation of Howard’s lies about his daughter, an internal countdown to flee began. To do it, they’d have to outsmart and physically hold off the man who kept them alive.
In “The Shelter,” it’s the hysteria of impending doom, and the panic of being left vulnerable, that drive the neighbors battering-ram mad. Whether it’s on the way in or out, Serling shows that civility proves hollow when looking into the face of fear.