Spoiler Warning! (Obviously)
Like a lot of movie-goers, I highly enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane and consider it the second best film of 2016 so far. However, despite the strong acting, the heart-pounding thrills, and the wonderful pacing, most movie-goers thought the ending was a bit "over the top."
Before I begin my defense of the film's ending, I would like to say that it is completely understandable why people disliked the conclusion. The alien hound and the introduction of the giant alien ship was "a bit" out of place with the rest of the movie; and how Michelle got herself out of the situation was equally unusual. But, like everything else in this film, I believe there is an explanation for it all.
At the conclusion, we see Michelle escape Howard's bunker from hell, only to find herself outside with the outer space invaders. Far from the dangerous killer with a father complex but still in a deadly situation, our hero must hide from an alien hound creature. Eventually, she's running from a bigger, even more dangerous monster: a flying space-craft/alien hybrid that shoots out poisonous gas. Trapped in Howard's truck, Michelle is raised high from the ground toward the squid-like beak of the alien ship. And in a "Deus ex machina" moment, Michelle is saved by a bottle of alcohol. After everything comes to a fiery end, Michelle drives off to Houston to help the resistance.
Like its predecessor, "10 Cloverfield Lane" had a lot of mystery behind it after the trailer was revealed. The film didn't have a ton of marketing and the first trailer came out pretty close to the release date, so it came as a shocker to a lot of us when it was announced. What I highly admire about the advertising behind "Cloverfield" and "10 Cloverfield Lane" is that they barely show the antagonistic force in their respective films, leaving everything a mystery. We had to go and watch the movie to find out what's terrorizing the protagonists.
Therein lies one of two problems with the ending. For most of "Cloverfield," the audience was shown the destructive powers of the giant monster as it tears through New York. But in the second film, the audience was only told about the attack, with little hints and glimpses of the alien armada, the biggest reveal being the infected woman:
Their presence was largely overshadowed by Howard as the main antagonist and the large alien ship was taken down rather easily by Michelle. And there lies the second problem: Michelle destroying the alien ship with a makeshift Molotov cocktail.
Combining these two problems, we, as an audience, had to ask ourselves why should we be scared of the aliens in "10 Cloverfield Lane"? The monster in "Cloverfield" was much more terrifying, tenacious, and a constant threat to our protagonists, so why didn't the extraterrestrial forces match that level of fear?
My Defense: Giant Monsters and Incredible Luck
First, I want to address the "giant monster" problem and refer to the film's tagline shown on the official poster for the movie:
The tagline mostly refers to Howard, of course. Our heroes, Michelle and Emmett, are under constant threat as they live with John Goodman's character as he embodies the "monster" of the film. Even though he's not an actual mutated monster that came from the sea, he is an imposing figure that audiences steadily grow uncertain of, especially with his motivations. Much like the creature from the first film, Howard, in a way, wildly tears through the life of our protagonists and has a history with taking young women and making them disappear forever.
So, basically, Howard is the "giant monster." In a way, this conclusion would have proved satisfactory for most movie-goers, but "10 Cloverfield Lane" further extends its own tagline by presenting two more monsters that are closer to its name: the alien hound and the giant alien ship. Having overcome Howard's rampage using her resourcefulness, Michelle has to face an even bigger threat in the outside world. In the last moments in the bunker, we've almost forgotten the dangers lurking outside when Howard reveals his true colors and it's only when Michelle stands alone are we reminded of the attack.
When Michelle removes her mask and finds the air clean, the film cannot suddenly disprove all that it's been building up to and throw us another curveball. No, it has to reveal the actual giant monster that earns the film a spot on the "Cloverfield" franchise. With the metaphorical monster gone, the audience is "treated," in a sense, to the aliens. And upon seeing the horrifying alien ship flying towards her, Michelle can only utter, "Come on," as she is thrown into another deadly situation. Again, her resourcefulness is put to use as she dodges the alien hound sniffing her out and avoids being eaten by the giant squid-like ship, which brings me to my second defense: Michelle's method in killing the giant alien.
Initially I thought it was a huge coincidence and good fortune that Michelle found a bottle of alcohol in the back of the truck. But after my second viewing, I realized that the same bottle of alcohol appears at the beginning of the film when Michelle is packing her things. Later, Howard admits to digging through her things and bringing them with him as he takes her to his bunker, so it's pretty safe to assume he found the bottle and kept it in his truck. He either forgot about it as he brought Michelle inside or left it there on purpose since it's not exactly a useful resource (and could be used as a weapon). This changes the appearance of the bottle from a "Deus ex machina" to a (sort-of) Chekov's Gun.
Showing the bottle at the beginning is a clever ploy to show a rather meaningless item being used in the best possible way at the very end.
Another thing that the film builds a lot on is Michelle's incredible use of her surroundings. As soon as she wakes up inside the bunker, we see that she is very much capable in finding a way out using the limited resources around her. Whether it's reaching for her cell phone or luring Howard into her room by starting a fire, she is very creative with the things around her. This is shown later on with the homemade protective suit and gas mask. Her history as a clothes designer helped her invent such a practical outfit when she makes her daring escape. So, naturally, when she finds a bottle of alcohol in the truck, she creates a Molotov cocktail to use against the giant alien ship. And, alas, it's the only thing she can rely on to avoid getting eaten alive.
While a lot of viewers saw her throwing the cocktail inside the mouth as an inconceivable act of skill, I saw it more as a gamble for Michelle. If there's anything else I can say about her other than her resourcefulness is that she is very lucky. Moments before the fight with the aliens, Michelle was climbing through the tight air vents to escape the bunker and that's when the frighteningly deformed Howard starts stabbing his knife through the vent walls. This heart-pounding scene ended with Michelle uninjured and relatively well without a single cut on her. How lucky was that? The same can be said when she hurls the cocktail at the right time, blowing the ship apart from the inside. I know it sounds like a ridiculous idea, but we've been watching rather ridiculous things happen throughout the film, and it's all because Michelle is both smart and lucky.
And all of that carries over to her character development and ultimate decision to her final destination. In the beginning, we see Michelle running away from her strained relationship with Bradley Cooper's voice and later, she tells a story about watching a little girl getting abused by her father and did nothing to help her. Her whole life, Michelle has been avoiding conflict and taking the easy way out. But when flight stops being an option, she is forced to become a fighter. She wasn't motivated by bravery or heroism, only necessity for survival. However, by bringing down an alien ship, she holds knowledge and experience in destroying the extraterrestrial attackers. By putting herself at the crossroads between running away or lending a hand, Michelle goes against her natural instincts and instead drives to Houston to help the resistance. And I believe this is all because of her successful gambit in blowing up the alien ship. Without it, it would've been very likely and more understandable for her to continue to Baton Rouge, eliminating any development for her character throughout the film and (being a huge Hollywood film) any chances for a sequel.
Hopefully my defense cleared some things up for the ending. As I said before, it is understandable why most audience members considered the ending to be too over-the-top and out-of-place, but for me, it was a necessary and satisfying conclusion to an otherwise fantastic film.
Do you guys have any other thoughts or ideas on "10 Cloverfield Lane"? Did you find the ending good for completely different reasons? Then feel free to share them in the comments!