One woman, two men, and an underground bunker.
As its residential title might suggest, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a far more localized affair than its so-called spiritual predecessor, found-footage monster flick Cloverfield.
Both the output of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company, and released under similarly mysterious circumstances, those looking for large-scale destruction here will likely leave disappointed. What unfolds instead is a tightly-wound tale of precarious coexistence in the wake of likely apocalypse.
Fleeing her home in New Orleans after a fight with her fiancée, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is involved in a car wreck and wakes up in an underground bunker. Her captor/host Howard (John Goodman) tells her that an unknown doomsday event has occurred, leaving the surface of the Earth contaminated.
After some early well-founded skepticism, Michelle comes to reluctantly accept Howard’s claim and, along with rustic interloper Emmett (an endearing John Gallagher, Jr.), sets about trying to make the best of an impossible situation.
However, their attempt to form a nuclear family quickly turns toxic due to Howard’s volatility — and some serious worrying issues with women. There are moments of calm amid the communal storminess — of magazine reading, film watching (Howard has managed to preserve a collection of DVDs and VHS that would most likely appall the AFI), and heartfelt conversations about past regrets — but when every dinner table conversation or game of Charades is a minefield it’s obvious that this arrangement can’t endure for long.
Originally an original script called The Cellar, 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s only real connection to its predecessor is the idea of monsters — which, to quote the tagline, “Come In Many Forms”.
A far cry from the more ebullient menace he brought to films like Barton Fink, Goodman imbues Howard with a simmering narcissism. Even when he’s bumping along in front of the jukebox or recalling his absent daughter, there’s the sense that his resentfulness could surge into sudden violence. As far as chemistry goes, this is one brew that would choke Walter White.
Though it veers into outright genre in its denouement (by way of Chekov’s whiskey bottle), before it turns her into Ellen Ripley the film makes Michelle into a protagonist who is both flawed resourceful. For a film with almost no expectations attached — its existence was a closely guarded secret before January — this is one cinematic address well worth the visiting.
This may not be Abrams’ first rodeo when it comes to bunkers – there’s even a hatch! – but 10 Cloverfield Lane is equals parts LOST and Room, albeit with an intriguing sci-fi slant. First-time director Dan Trachtenberg’s direction is slick but not showy (just check out the 360 pan when the camera first enters the homey main living area) and the film’s script (rewritten by Whiplash‘s Damien Chazelle) is a tightly-wound triumph.