When we first meet Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) she’s packing up and about to hit the road to get away from her fiancée. In her car she answers a call from her ex, and, like a PSA about distracted driving, promptly has a car accident that leaves her unconscious. When she wakes up she’s trapped in an underground bunker with sinister survivalist Howard (“He’s like a black belt in conspiracy theories.”) and sweet-natured motor mouth Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Outside, he says, an attack is about to leave the world uninhabitable.
“What are you going to do with me?” she asks.
“I’m going to keep you alive,” he replies.
The bunker has all the conveniences of home, just don’t flush when you don’t have to. What exactly is happening outside the bunker’s walls, however, is unclear (NO SPOILERS HERE!). Whether it’s nuclear fallout, an unexpected ice age, rabid Donald Trump supporters or a zombie holocaust that brings about the end, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a modern day episode of “The Twilight Zone” played out on the big screen. Dynamics develop between the trio as Michelle struggles to make sense of the situation but discovers the mystery only deepens the longer they stay sequestered underground.
“10 Cloverfield Lane,” doesn’t share a city, characters or situation with the 2008 mighty monster flick “Cloverfield,” but can be considered a spiritual cousin. Nor can it rightly be considered a horror film. It’s more a psychological thriller with a twist. There are creepy moments. Director Dan Trachtenberg (J.J. Abrams produced this time around) makes good use of the soundtrack, using jarring hums and thuds as a soundtrack to the daily life in the underground. Add to that an anxiety inducing score by Bear McCreary and a small collection of well chosen pop songs, including the ironically appropriate “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and you have a movie that uses sound as effectively as dialogue and story.
The bulk of the film could be recreated on stage with virtually no changes. Screenwriters Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien “Whiplash” Chazelle carefully control the story, doling out details in dribs and drabs, tightening the vice with every scene. Howard’s backstory is slowly revealed, but we’re never sure what’s real and what’s not. For his part Goodman gives nothing away. He is masterful, toggling between compassion and rage, riding the line of sanity in his concealed kingdom, ruling over his “family” with an iron fist.
Goodman is the star, but Winstead has the most screen time and emerges as a formidable action star who will likely get co-opted in the Marvel or DC universes before you can say J.J. Abrams three times, fast. Also strong is Gallagher Jr. who brings a goofy charm to Emmett.
“Cloverfield” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” are two very different films linked only by their name and their ability to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Gone is the original movie’s wobbly camera work and sprawling cast, replaced by a film with just three characters and a healthy respect for classic filmmaking. Best of all the new film is fuelled by the jittery times we live in when Howard’s rantings about attacks—whatever the cause—don’t sound completely far fetched.