by: S. Scott Stanikmas – Senior Staff Writer
Let’s get one thing clear – 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sequel to the 2007 shaky-cam monster flick Cloverfield in name only. There are no giant creatures tearing up buildings. You don’t have smart-aleck hipsters running around making the terrible decisions. There is the tell-tale creature roar, but that may be the only physical connection to the first film.
What you do get is stellar performances from John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. in a tense and gripping psychological thriller that never lets you get too comfortable and changes the questions just when you think you have the answers.
Michelle (Winstead) opens up the film in a series of fraught and wordless scenes, packing belongings and making frantic calls on her phone. She leaves her apartment with a look that says she doesn’t want to be headed to whatever her destination is (Bear McCreary’s score burrows under your skin here, settling in and nibbling at your nerves). Not too long after she starts her trek does she get into a horrible accident, flipping her vehicle into a ditch on the side of the road.
Waking up in a concrete room, Michelle finds herself chained to the wall. While in the midst of trying to make sense of her situation the door to her cell opens, revealing her savior and benefactor – Howard (Goodman). The grizzled and soft-spoken (for the moment) survivalist tells Michelle that the situation looks dire as an attack has the left the world outside of his doomsday bunker uninhabitable and that her best chance of survival is to stay with him for the next year (or two).
After coming to terms with this and finally getting to leave her cell/room, she meets the third party sharing the close quarters with her and Howard – Emmett, a younger man who helped Howard build their current accommodations.
What follows is one of the most intense thrillers I’ve had the pleasure to see in a cinema in recent years. Howard is obviously a conspiracy nut with more than one theory as to what might have happened – from the plausible (a biological attack by the Russians) to the ludicrous (alien invasion). His paranoia keeps all three of them underground locked up safe in his hidey-hole waiting out the apocalypse.
Michelle attempts to escape but thinks twice after realizing Howard might actually be telling the truth. But truth or not, when other secrets come to the forefront and a chilling discovery is made, Michelle and Emmett start to question just who it is they are locked up with and how safe they feel with the unhinged psycho that has trapped them underground.
Making his feature film directing debut, Dan Trachtenberg does an amazing job creating a truly fleshed out world in what amounts to a shed buried under someone’s backyard. The slow burn story from writers Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle takes its time making you feel uncomfortable but never really gives you a chance to get your bearings again – but that’s a good thing. The nervous tension keeps ramping up, building to a crescendo in the final act.
All three actors give top caliber performances. Winstead works really well as the back-against-the-wall style heroine, fighting like a caged animal for her freedom. Gallagher as the comic relief does his job admirably. The tension between him and Goodman is almost a physical thing. And speaking of the big guy, he seems to be having the most fun of all, going from slightly deranged to full-on psychotic at the drop of a hat. While Goodman still shows signs of genuine humanity and even kindness at times all it takes is for that switch to flip and then his rage comes bursting to the surface like a spewing volcano. It’s at that point you start to realize that maybe not all monsters are easily recognizable.
While I really liked the film overall the climax felt a little off. I can’t pinpoint exactly where the story seemed to veer for me but I just didn’t leave feeling wholly satisfied.
That being said, 10 Cloverfield Lane is still a quality piece of cinema that has a jittery energy to it that keeps you on the edge of your seat for the majority of the time, making this a worthwhile trip to the local multiplex.