Five years later, the controversial ending of 10 Cloverfield Street still surprises (and works)

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Calle Cloverfield 10, the second installment in the Cloverfield saga from producer JJ Abrams, hit theaters around the world five years ago. We celebrate its particular anniversary by remembering the film and, above all, its controversial ending.

Attention: The article includes spoilers for the entire movie.


All you have to do is go outside.

The lights go on and off. An electric fire consumes the living room. Howard’s screams of pain echo through the vents as his flesh burns from exposure to perchloric acid. Any life form Michelle knew in that bunker is long dead. The clock ticks towards its inevitable destruction. Howard’s doomsday bunker, a monument to her monstrous need for control, is vaporized by an explosion just minutes after she manages to escape inside a safety suit that she builds herself from shower curtains and duct tape. Take your first steps into a world you were told was no longer habitable.

He takes off his mask and breathes. The air is clean. For a second, you are safe. Then, see an alien ship in the distance. Given the controversial ending to 10 Cloverfield Street, it is clear that not all viewers were satisfied.

But that ending was absolutely necessary.

10-cloverfield-lane-ending
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) learns the truth about what happens outside the house on 10 Cloverfield Street.

Trapped in a box

The biggest objections at the end of the film seem to come from the feeling that the genre shift from content thriller to sci-fi realm was too big a step, which came out of nowhere and undoes the logical and realistic style that the film has up to that point. How each viewer feels this transition is, of course, subjective and personal. What can be argued is what kind of movie we are seeing until the end, because it makes it clear that perhaps we were wrong.

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Already on Michelle’s flight in the opening scenes of the film, 10 Cloverfield Street makes it clear that whatever catastrophic event is occurring is large-scale: The radio mentions a “power surge” that has caused blackouts in many cities on the south coast. Emmet (John Gallager Jr.) tells Michelle about giant red flashes that are unlike anything he has seen so far. The woman trying to break into the bunker has clearly been affected by some kind of chemical attack due to the intense burns on her skin. Strange vehicles are heard moving over the bunker several times, hinting at a military presence, something Howard (John Goodman) theorizes with the presence of “alien signals.” While most of what we see centers on the three people inside the bunker, the story beyond about an alien invasion is foreshadowed numerous times before the reveal. It was always a science fiction movie, but you have to assimilate the details to realize it.

Running to the end

For most of the time, Michelle presents herself as a cunning, resourceful and determined woman who, however, is hampered by a perennial need to run away from problems. We don’t know exactly what happened to her fiancé beyond a “fight,” but the first thing we see Michelle do is leave her entire life behind and run away. She elaborates on this aspect of herself when she tells Emmett a story in which she claims to see a little girl in a hardware store who was being physically abused by her father, and how it reminded her of her own fatherly relationship. Michelle says she wanted to help the girl, intervene like her brother did when her father was abusive, but she couldn’t. “I did what I always do when the going gets tough“, dice. “I panicked and ran“It is a self-accusation that has an impact on the rest of the film.

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What is communicated to us with this is more complicated than simple guilt for avoiding difficult situations. Earlier, when Michelle first wakes up and tries to escape Howard on her own, he comments that he has an internal fight. Michelle is not helpless or passive; nor does he lack courage. His problem is the fear of having to take risks to help others. Living in Howard’s bunker is an abusive and dangerous situation, and running away from him is the right course of action, but it also doesn’t challenge his convictions about his limitations. Revealing whether Howard was right about what was happening on the outside does not work as the end of the story because it does not resolve our protagonist’s internal conflict. Survival is not the only goal. For Michelle’s story to come to an end, she needs to change.

Houston, we have a problem

When Howard confronts Michelle and Emmet about using the tools, he threatens them and demands to know what they are doing. They are both accomplices, but Emmett takes the blame, claiming he was making a weapon. Michelle knows that he is sacrificing himself for her, but remains silent. Mary Elizabeth Winstead interprets the anguish perfectly, conveying with her expressions the confusion of knowing that, as with her brother, she is allowing someone else to take the abuse on her behalf, and is not brave enough to stop it. Howard kills Emmett for this, which means that Michelle’s subsequent escape can only be for his own personal gain. She manages to stay alive.

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However, after being attacked by aliens (and once again using cunning to save herself), Michelle is faced with a genuine choice. As he moves away from Howard’s home, a radio broadcast calls for survivors to head to Baton Rouge for safety or to Houston to fight the invasion. Michelle is homeless. Nobody and nothing forces her to make a decision. You have no obligation to intervene. That is why a natural disaster or some other tragic situation that she is involved in could not help make her character work in the same way. A tremendous force is injuring and killing other people, and Michelle can choose to flee or, for the first time in her life, take a risk to help others.

He heads toward Houston and the lightning bolts reveal more alien ships in the distance. What will happen next we do not know.

But she is no longer afraid.