10 Cloverfield Lane review: a smart, suspenseful and satisfying sci-fi thriller
When Cloverfield released in 2008, people had no idea what it was about. Was it science fiction? A monster movie? An apocalyptic movie?
The answer, it turned out, was that it was a bit of everything.
10 Cloverfield Lane is almost like a spin-off from that film, imagining a different story taking place in a different part of the world but in the same universe.
And boy, is it good.
Considering that the ultra-secretive JJ Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek: Into Darkness) serves as a producer on the film, perhaps the fact that 10 Cloverfield Lane arrived with zero fanfare was to be expected.
This edge-of-your-seat thriller also marks a rock solid debut for newbie director Dan Trachtenberg. The tired found footage and shaky camera gimmicks of Cloverfield are missing and get replaced instead with the hallmarks of psychological thrillers.
It's like a lovely mix of War of the Worlds, Room, Saw, Misery, Psycho, and Signs.
Trust no one
Throughout the movie, we know as little as Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle does, who wakes up from a car crash inside the cell of a bunker located at the titular address.
She meets Howard (John Goodman in his meatiest role in a while), a doomsday-prepper who built the shelter. Howards claims to have rescued Michelle not only from the accident, but from the supposed fall out happening above ground.
Whatever is actually happening up top remains as mysterious to us as it does to Michelle and Emmet (John Gallagher Jr), who fought to get in the bunker, but what's happening inside becomes the alarming pulse of the film.
But who is Howard? What's his agenda? Is there any truth to his story about what's happening above ground?
And if Michelle tries to escape from his compound, is she saving herself or dooming herself?
As menacing as Howard can be at times, he also comes across as almost benign in some scenes. Thanks to Goodman's tricky performance, you really don't know if Howard is truly a psychopath, conspiracy theorist or dedicated survivalist.
It's difficult to describe the brilliance of his performance without spoiling the fun of it, but Goodman basically never makes it easy to pin him down - he's by turns terrifying, rational, warm, cold, empathetic, funny, unhinged, up, down, all around.
You get the idea.
The bunker itself is cosy - packed with games, books and even movies. There's electricity, running water, an air filtration system and enough food in the pantry to last them until the air clears.
Howard's hospitality feels conditional and as Michelle begins to understand the man just a little more, the need to escape becomes all the more important even if it means confronting what might be waiting on the other side of the door.
The final half-hour is sheer madness, but without spoiling anything I can tell you that Michelle finds new challenges around every corner.
A well-executed thriller
The screenplay - based on a story by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, who also wrote the script, along with Damien Chazelle (the writer and director of Whiplash) lets unease seep into almost every frame and is aided by Bear McCreary's deliberately overwrought score to give you a few jump scares.
The camera work plays with the idea of confinement and claustrophobia. Shots that are deliberately uncomfortably close - putting full focus on Howard's fidgety fingers, for example - will make you hold your breath.
Not a damsel in distress
All three lead actors deserve praise for brilliant performances that collectively serve as the strongest aspect of the film. Goodman's performance as a man at the edge of his sanity will make your skin crawl.
And Winstead matches Goodman in every way. She manages to convey Michelle's conflicted feelings about her predicament: miles away from a traditional damsel in distress, she is refreshingly calm, tough, quick-thinking and competent.
These days, you can pretty much glean the entire plot of a movie from its trailer. Which is why it's rare to watch a film that keeps you guessing.
And your pulse racing.