Since most of the enjoyment in “10 Cloverfield Lane” comes from not knowing, don’t fret. What you are about to read isn’t going to ruin what is a taut, well-crafted thriller that establishes Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a star, Dan Trachtenberg as a soon to be in demand director, and John Goodman as one of the finest character actors of the last thirty years.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is loosely tied to 2008’s “Cloverfield”, a slightly overrated “found footage” monster movie. What this new pseudo-sequel does that its predecessor did not is make you care about the characters, even when one of them is without a doubt crazy.
The movie begins with Michelle (Winstead) packing her bags and leaving an apartment with great emotional trepidation and haste. She gets in her car then begins driving through Louisiana to an unknown destination. After ignoring two phone calls from Ben (try to guess the very famous actor who provides his voice), her car is slammed into and the crash is superbly edited into the movie’s opening credits.
Michelle wakes up in a cement-walled room with her leg chained to a pipe and an IV in her arm. She is woken up by Howard (Goodman), who explains in very non-specific terms that he saved her life.
It turns out that Howard is a survivalist nut job who has built a bunker near his farmhouse in the event of, well, an event. He’s prepared for everything, from nuclear war to alien attack. Michelle eventually learns there is one other person in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who is there voluntarily.
The majority of “10 Cloverfield Lane” then becomes an exercise in paranoia loaded with psychological warfare, creepy forewarnings, and the ultimate fear of “what is going on out there.” Again, not knowing what is happening is 100% of the fun, but the movie manages to make that almost secondary when compared to the insanity happening in the bunker.
Considering there are only three actors in the movie, they had all better come to play. Winstead has been on the cusp of movie stardom for a few years and her portrayal of a quick thinking heroine is fantastic. She always appears to be in control of her situation, even when she has none.
Gallagher Jr. approaches stereotypical comic relief a few times, but thankfully, doesn’t get too zany. He has one superbly written and acted monologue about regret that is relatable to anyone from a small town.
For an actor that usually plays likable characters, even when they are as ridiculous as Walter Sobchak from “The Big Lebowski”, Goodman goes full villain here. He creates a clearly crazy person with a mysterious agenda. There are moments in which he elicits pity that lead one to believe he’s just a sad, lonely man, but then he quickly and without reason explodes with rage. Goodman’s Howard is more terrifying than any CGI monster that destroys a city could ever be.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is made even better by director Trachtenberg and cinematographer Jeff Cutter’s choice to abandon the shake camera so present in “Cloverfield.” Their use of close ups gives the movie an even more claustrophobic feel. The editing from Stefan Grube is also a marvel, particularly in the final twenty minutes of the movie.
The final star is Bear McCreary, who is responsible for the chilling, nerve-wracking music that is seemingly ever present. His music makes an unsettling situation even more unsettling before hitting maximum intensity in the soon to be infamous finale.
Okay, the finale. After about ninety minutes of mental games, “10 Cloverfield Lane” flips a switch and throws an action sequence at you with about a hundred jump scares. Do yourself a giant favor and avoid learning anything about it and it will become a highly rewarding experience.
There is nary a lull in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Even the calmer moments have an eerie feeling of oncoming doom and dread. This extremely tense movie is all about the fear of the unknown versus the known and is like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” on performance enhancing drugs.