“10 Cloverfield Lane” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Producer J.J. Abrams has successfully pulled a fast one over moviegoers once again with the brilliantly-conceived and marketed “10 Cloverfield Lane,” another underground (quite literally, in this case), super-secret movie project that came out of nowhere with a mysterious trailer two months back. Coming out eight years after his equally brilliant found footage horror thriller “Cloverfield,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” could hardly be considered a sequel. There are some similarities, though, however, slight, that will have film sleuths mulling over the whether the films are distant cousins. Perhaps through more “Cloverfield” chapters, somehow we’ll find that they tie together when all is said and done.
John Goodman gives a career performance as Howard, an extreme survivalist in the Deep South who is convinced that the world has come under attack, but is not sure how. Before he locked himself into his airtight bunker underneath his barn, he rescued, or so he says, a distraught woman, Michelle (an excellent Mary Elizabeth Winstead) woman who crashed her car as she fled her apartment after breaking up with her boyfriend (Bradley Cooper supplies the voice of the beau in a phone call). Waking up, chained to a wall in one of the bunker’s cells, Michelle is apparently being held captive for her own good because if she escapes her confines, she faces certain death with the polluted air outside. Also trapped down below is Emmett (an impressive John Gallagher Jr.), who helped Howard build the bunker when he realized the attack was underway.
Questioning Howard’s sanity – his theories range from a chemical attack, invasion by Russians or maybe even Martians – Michelle and Emmett struggle with their seemingly few options. On one hand, the bunker is stocked with years of supplies and they could live comfortably, only worrying about Howard’s instability and clues of his lurid past; or they could tempt finding a way to escape, even though there’s evidence outside to back up Howard’s theories of an attack.
There’s no question Abrams is a genius shepherding young filmmakers through these lower-budgeted projects, and for the second film in a row (Matt Reeves expertly directed the first “Cloverfield”), the filmmaker has found an extremely talented director in Dan Trachtenberg, who creates a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout.
Staged about 80 percent of the time in the bunker, Trachtenberg creates an indelible slow-burn with “10 Cloverfield Lane,” as the tension – only broken occasionally by Gallagher’s well-placed comic relief – ratchets up in an unnerving manner throughout the film. The film has no predictable outcome and leaves you guessing throughout. Is Howard suffering some sort of paranoid psychosis and holding his captives for something more sinister? Is the air really contaminated outside, and why? Are there monsters outside? Is Howard the monster, or merely is he someone who is slightly off-kilter? The possibilities are endless until the last act of the film reveals the truth, which for obvious reasons, can’t be explained her.
One of modern film’s best character actors, Goodman steals the show in “10 Cloverfield Lane,” going places he’s never gone to in his career with the explosively unpredictable Howard. Of course, we all knew he could be funny, and he’s certainly had a his fair share delivering in dramatic roles. But “10 Cloverfield Lane” displays Goodman in an entirely new light. It’s great to see an actor of his stature, especially at this point in his career, willing to take risks instead of doing the same, old stereotypical roles for a paycheck. He may not be the model citizen of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” but he’s perfect person to dwell in the unpredictable world of “Cloverfield.”