Breaking The Scene (10 Cloverfield Lane — Santa Claus)

Here’s a scene that solidifies our collective fear of playing board games with hostage takers that want to maintain a hero complex.

Written By: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle

Scene Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJUZJn4MNwM

Scene Context:

Michelle and Emmett are trapped in a bunker with the short-tempered Howard. They’ve been planning how to escape from him for the past few weeks.

Scene Conflicts:

  • Michelle and Emmett want to escape from Howard
  • Howard doesn’t want them to escape

Scene Outline:

  1. The three are playing a game of Taboo. Emmett sets the timer and tries to get Howard to guess the first word.
  2. Howard successfully gets the first word (“Little”). Emmett tries to get him to guess the second word by asking Howard to describe Michelle.
  3. Howard struggles. First tries “girl”, then tries “princess.” The timer goes off.
  4. Emmett reveals the word was “Little woman.” Howard complains that Emmett wasn’t clear.
  5. Howard pulls his card. Starts the timer. Stares straight at Emmett, and says he’s always watching.
  6. Emmett guesses God. Howard continues, clarifies that he can go wherever he wants, says knows what Emmett is doing, yells that he is always watching as Emmett gets more and more nervous.
  7. Michelle butts in and guesses Santa Claus. Howard, annoyed, says she’s right. Tells her that Emmett won’t get the point since she guessed.

Why It Works:

Discomforting Antagonist: The first half of this scene is gut-churning, and that’s in large part to how Howard begins to reveal, in the most awkward way, how he doesn’t view Michelle as a woman but as a little girl. As Howard is unable to come up with this reasonable revelation, the audience begins to feel more and more uncomfortable and worried for Michelle. Her desire to escape is even more pronounced now, and our antagonism towards Howard similarly increases.

Mysterious Antagonist: One of the many things that makes Howard such a terrifying antagonist is how little the audience knows about him. We never are sure if his intentions are truly built around protection, entrapment, or a perverted mix of both. This mystery surrounding him makes scenes like this especially frightening, as we have 0 clue as to his motivation. Though he might just be giving hints for “Santa Claus”, his intensity feels much more accusatory. By the end of the scene, we’re not sure if it was all just part of the game, or if it was a facet of something more devious.

Protagonist in Wait: Michelle doesn’t speak at all throughout this scene, knowing that Howard hates it when anyone speaks out of turn. Even when Howard is grossly infantilizing her, she doesn’t say a word. So when she does butt in, it’s that much more impactful- she’s taken a backseat to this scene up until this moment where her and Emmett seem dangerously close to being exposed.

Late Entry, Early Exit: The first shot of this scene is Emmett turning on the timer. Immediately, we are in the middle of this painfully tense scene. There’s no need for a scene before explaining why this game is being played, and similarly no need for the immediate aftermath of the scene. After the key beats of tension are hit, we’re pulled right out, and thus the story is able to maintain that feeling of discomfort which it has so wonderfully been able to create.

Summary:

Though John Goodman is, evidently, an exceptional actor, so much of what makes his scenes so wonderfully tense is found in the essence of his character’s mysterious nature. By intentionally withholding information regarding Howard’s past, the writers force the audience to continually guess whether or not Howard is someone worth trusting, thus making him an antagonist perfectly suited to this movie which, by all accounts, constantly has the audience second-guess themselves.

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Jason Turk

Jason Turk

A writer! What am I writing about? Well, a lot of things, most of them being related to Screenwriting. Hope you like what you see!