Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is leaving her fiancé after an argument. While driving down a dark country road, Michelle has a traffic accident and wakes up sometime later in a concrete block room, hooked up to an IV and wearing a knee brace that is chained to a pipe on the wall. She soon meets Howard (John Goodman) who tells her he found her on the side of the road in her overturned car and brought her back to his home and saved her life. Howard tells Michelle they are in his underground bunker because some kind of attack has occurred and the air is toxic making it impossible for her to leave. Michelle doubts his story despite confirmation of an attack from Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.). Howard’s assistant in building the bunker. Michelle smashes a bottle on Howard’s head, steals his keys and runs to the double steel doors to escape. As she is about to open the outer door, a neighbor woman begs to be let in. Her skin is covered in lesions and she begins smashing her head on the small window, demanding to be let in. Michelle begins to believe Howard is telling the truth and the trio settles into a routine of watching movies, working on jigsaw puzzles and listening to music on a jukebox. Soon, Howard’s controlling nature and a few clues found in his belongings lead both Michelle and Emmet to plot a dangerous escape plan.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is not exactly a sequel to JJ Abrams 2008 monster movie “Cloverfield.” Abrams is a producer on the new movie but it was developed from a script that originally had nothing to do with that first film. Instead, “10 Cloverfield Lane” should be considered a companion piece to “Cloverfield” that doesn’t require you to have seen the original film to enjoy it and understand what’s happening. It is a showcase of both storytelling and acting with enough tension and suspense to keep your eyes glued to the screen and your hands gripping the armrests for nearly its entire running time.
The movie is shot mostly within the confines of the underground bunker, giving it a feeling of claustrophobia and ramping up the tension. While the characters can escape from one another they are never very far away from their roommates. It is the kind of setting where paranoia feeds on itself and the slightest disagreement can quickly spiral out of control. First time feature director Dan Trachtenberg displays a strong command of space and fills it with quiet moments that always feel like spring-loaded traps waiting to release their violence on the characters and the audience. Once the story moves underground there is a palpable sense of foreboding and the innate knowledge of approaching calamity. It is a film that reaches through the screen, grabs your collar and demands your attention.
John Goodman is spectacular in the demanding and complex role of Howard the benefactor/jailer of “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Howard’s bulk, as well as his possession of a gun and the keys to all the doors, presents an intimidating obstacle to freedom for Michelle and Emmet. Goodman’s Howard reminds the pair they would be dead without him and he feels they owe him gratitude and strict obedience for his hospitality. Goodman plays Howard as a man on a razor’s edge. He can switch from fatherly to threatening in a heartbeat if he senses some kind of treachery or betrayal. Goodman, best known for his sweet and funny portrayal of Dan Connor on the sitcom “Rosanne,” has shown himself to be a more than capable actor in feature films. “10 Cloverfield Lane” really lets him exercise his acting chops in a film that will likely find a wide audience.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the kind of strong and capable female character frequently demanded by those looking for better movie roles for women. Winstead’s Michelle is smart and capable, doesn’t need a man to save her and is more than willing to fight for herself against overwhelming odds. She questions Howard’s story of the attack and encourages him to do more than hide out underground. While Howard has more information about what’s going on than he is willing to share, Michelle pushes him to the point of his lashing out. It is his reactions and some other evidence that leads Michelle to attempt an escape. If there is a problem with her character it is her suddenly acquired ability to create something out of practically nothing. She becomes a female MacGyver as the movie goes on. While these abilities keep her alive they also stretch believability to the max. It’s a minor complaint but it did kind of stick out to me.
Rounding out the cast is John Gallagher, Jr. as Emmet. I think his character is there to keep the dynamic between Howard and Michelle from getting too creepy too quickly. Emmet is a buffer character that is simple and pure. He’s like a puppy that follows at its master’s heels and only wants to please. Emmet helped Howard build the bunker but describes getting through the door once the attack started as a fight. Despite this, Emmet is still loyal to Howard, believing everything he says. Emmet is a character that is surprisingly important to the story. If he was gone, the movie would have a completely different tone.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language. There is a car crash that is very violent. There is also a nearly constant threat of violence throughout the film. There is an image of a woman with what appear to be burns on her face. A character is shot and, while not seen, there is a spray of blood on the wall. A character is also severely burned.
There is only a passing mention of something possibly connected to “Cloverfield” but it is so minor it would be easy to miss it; however, the end of the movie does connect the two films and answers a few questions left dangling from the first film. If you haven’t seen the first film, that isn’t an impediment to enjoying this film as it stands alone and works as a psychological thriller without knowing anything about the giant monster that attacked New York. Still, there is something there for fans of the first film with the possibility of more tangentially connect stories to come. I am looking forward to more movies from this universe.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” gets five stars out of five.
The showdown between the two titans of the DC comics universe is just a week away; but this week, we get the third film adaptation from a YA book series as well as a faith-based drama. I’ll see and review at least one of these films.
The Divergent Series: Allegiant—
Miracles from Heaven—
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