Why the ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane works

By Nathan Woodham

WARNING: Spoilers abound in this review. If you hate spoilers like I do, go watch the frickin’ movie.

I have seen many a Hollywood critic put down the ending to 10 Cloverfield Lane, calling it “contrived” and “a blockbuster cop-out ending to an otherwise great psychological thriller.” To those critics, I say nay! The ending matches the tone and adds an additional layer of depth to the main character.

I understand that the unexpected science-fiction-y twist made you crap your critical drawers when you realized that the spiritual successor to Cloverfield (2008) might actually be – *gasp* – a genre film, but sometimes those aspects of a movie can actually work to it’s benefit.

Let me give some context to what I am talking about:

10 Cloverfield Lane is about a girl named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who survives a car accident and ends up in an underground bunker with a crazy old man named Howard (John Goodman) and some other guy (John Gallagher Jr.). Howard tries to convince the other two that it is unsafe to leave the bunker because the aliens have attacked, but somehow his destructive, abusive and deranged personality leaves Michelle unconvinced.

For most of the movie, the viewer is unsure whether there actually are aliens and whether Howard is actually a threat or if he is just a lonely old guy. This is what most critics praise, and rightly so. I didn’t know whether to be sympathetic toward Howard’s grampa-like disposition or completely terrified by his ability to manipulate the other characters and his willingness to do whatever it takes to have it his way.

Howard is such an intriguing character that many critics make the mistake of viewing him as the focus of the film. He is not. He is simply one of the many obstacles that the main character, Michelle, must overcome. He stays stagnant while Michelle develops as a character.

So here’s the twist ending: after Howard murders someone, Michelle uses a homemade gas mask and a 42-gallon drum full of acid to escape the bunker. She quickly finds out that the aliens were real all along. After finally escaping the horror that has been looming over her throughout the movie, she finds out that the real threat is much scarier and much bigger.

Michelle uses every resource at her disposal to defeat a giant floating alien with tentacles in the final fight of the movie. As the tentacles wrap around the pickup truck that Michelle was hiding in, she makes a Molotov cocktail and throws it into the beast’s mouth, killing it and allowing Michelle to escape.

It concludes with Michelle hearing a voice over the radio, asking for help. She stops at an intersection, one path leading to some kind of safety and the other to the mouth of danger, where the radio transmission is coming from. She deliberately chooses to take the path toward the hoards of aliens to answer the other survivor’s call for help.

Yes, the ending has aliens. That alone doesn’t make it bad. In fact, it allows 10 Cloverfield Lane to become one of the most psychologically intense origin stories of all time.

Because despite the depth and thrill that the antagonist brings, the movie isn’t about him. It’s about Michelle and her ability to adapt to alien situations (pun definitely intended).

It’s sad knowing that a 10-minute sequence at the end of the movie turned so many critics off just because it had aliens in it, even though it fit the movie.

10 Cloverfield Lane earns the stellar rating of a plastic baggy filled with those tiny blue aliens you get from pachinko machines that make you feel incredibly nostalgic when you see them. 

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