In 2008, Matt Reeves’s Cloverfield created ripples among cinemagoers because of the proximity its plot shared with the events of 9/11. Cloverfield depicts a rampaging monster that appears out of nowhere and destroys New York City. The ending suggested a mild tribute to the cult classic Miracle Mile (1988), which explores concerns over a nuclear war and the end of the world.
Allegory has been a recurring theme in science fiction films from the volatile 1950s, a decade that saw the aftermath of WWII, the rise of the Iron Curtain between the United States of America and the Soviet Union, and the threat of nuclear warfare. The monsters and aliens of science fiction movies such as The Thing From Another World (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Godzilla (1954) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), distilled the fear, anxiety and paranoia that characterised this period.
The monsters from these movies were upgraded along with their political affiliations as the decades went by. Predator (1987) saw a group of Special Forces members in a fictional South American country being killed one by one during a rescue mission. Predator hints at American involvement in dirty wars in South and Central American countries. The alien-monster in Predator, a mindless killing machine, is finally brought under control by the heroics of the great American soldier.
The end of the Cold War in the late 1980s brought a new enemy. Islamic terrorists featured in several action films. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on America, onscreen monsters became more fiercely political than their predecessors. Cloverfield uses monsters/aliens as an extended metaphor for these trying times, just like District 9 (2009) takes on apartheid in South Africa, Monsters (2010) examines illegal immigration from Mexico and Monsters: Dark Continent (2014) looks at American soldiers fighting insurgents and aliens in the Middle East.
Apart from rampaging monsters, sentient machines that consider human beings to be their enemy are also frequent adversaries. These Frankensteinian villains represent technophobia in a world heavily dependent on scientific advances. The techno-monsters from the 1950s, such as Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still or the creature from The Robot Monster (1953), appear relatively harmless in comparison to the present-day threats.
In Demon Seed (1977), one of the most bizarrely innovative takes on the Frankenstein syndrome, a super-intelligent computer impregnates its creator’s wife. In the Terminator series, the artificial intelligence system Skynet is hell-bent on destroying humanity. In The Matrix trilogy, humans are a source of energy for machines, the needs having been reversed.
Sometimes, threat resides in the unlikeliest of places. Children have done their part as monsters out to destroy a world created by adults. A number of movies such as Village of the Damned (1960), The Damned (1963), Children of the Damned (1964), Who Can Kill a Child? (1976) and The Brood (1979) features cherubic children who are corrupted by the hubris of adults.
In the current century, our paranoia has only increased, the nuclear threat is more real than ever, and fears of surveillance are at an all-time high. 10 Cloverfield Lane, described as a spiritual successor to Cloverfield¸ taps into present-day anxieties by conjuring up a world in which our greatest fears turn out to be true. This time, the monster isn’t a giant spider or a man-fly hybrid or a gargantuan beast. It is a human being.