10 Cloverfield Lane review: This nightmare a dream come true
At The Movies
10 Cloverfield Lane
* * * * (A)
Directed By Dan Trachtenberg
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr., Mat Vairo, Maya Erskine
Paramount, Rated PG-13, Sci-Fi, 105 minutes
A young woman’s journey toward empowerment creates the foundation for this unnerving thriller, “10 Cloverfield Lane.”
When we first meet Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), she is haphazardly gathering her fashion design sketches and a few possessions. She leaves a voice mail for someone, then drives away. Soon she receives a call from Ben, the charming, controlling boyfriend (voice of Bradley Cooper) whose brief conversation reveals that Michelle must leave in order to pursue her destiny. Doing so will both save Michelle’s life and place her in a prolonged state of purgatory.
Within moments Michelle is involved in a terrible accident. She awakens in a spare, concrete block room — IV in her arm, brace on her injured leg and chained to the wall. She meets Howard (John Goodman), her captor who claims he found her unconscious by the road, and has brought her to his bunker to treat her injuries and save her from a mysterious, apocalyptic, global attack. Our “uh-oh” reaction is primed because he reminds us of Kathy Baker’s delusionary psychotic from “Misery.”
Within a day or so, Michelle’s chain is removed and she’s free to roam her new home, an underground, two-bedroom apartment. She meets Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.), the bunker’s third resident. He explains that as Howard’s neighbor, he fought his way inside the bunker to escape an attack on the world.
What and who to believe are questions Michelle attempts to resolve. Howard is a complex, deeply repressed character, exhibiting strange proclivities that slowly pile up. Michelle proves to be a worthy adversary, observing everything, and using each scrap of information and resource at her disposal to seek solutions to her situation.
Although Howard does not overtly abuse her, during a period of weeks Michelle determines that whatever dangers await her outside, they’re preferable to being his captive. However, evidence that the outside air is poisonous means that she must find a way to protect herself before breaching Howard’s well-conceived security system.
While Howard revels in controlling his “little family,” Michelle and Emmet appear to accept his rules during evenings spent together making, serving, eating and cleaning up after family-style dinners, followed by board games, cards or watching films as a trio in the “community area.” Only in the dead of night is Michelle free to study, sketch and construct survival gear away from Howard’s prying eyes.
The film’s final act is both unexpected and qualifies the movie as a sort of side sequel to J.J. Abrams’s 2008 “Cloverfield,” a creature-feature that found a group of young people attempting to survive an attack from alien monsters.
Well-crafted and tense from start to finish, part two exceeds its source material, adeptly mixing genres and villains. Winstead’s credible performance draws us in as does Goodman’s enigmatic Howard. We cringe in his presence, yet understand Howard’s desire to bond. He exhibits redeeming qualities that cause us to hope he won’t turn out to be a monster. Meanwhile Michelle only grows in our esteem. To author her own fate, she plans and improvises without any overblown fanfare.
That rare sequel that both outdoes the original and stands entirely on it’s own, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is more than worthy of its own sequel as it finds both a heroine and a storyline we’re willing to follow wherever they take us.
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