’10 Cloverfield Lane’: Tense and twisty beneath the surface

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John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” | Michele K. Short/Paramount Pictures

While producer J.J. Abrams describes “10 Cloverfield Lane” as being very different but in “the same wheelhouse” as the 2008 film “Cloverfield,” it still needs to be stressed that this intense, continually gripping and extremely engrossing movie is not a sequel to the equally excellent earlier film, also produced by Abrams.

While the original “Cloverfield” took place in the urban panorama of New York City, “10 Cloverfield Lane” keeps us locked — much like the three main characters — in a bunker located beneath a very remote farmhouse in rural America. The horror we find here is intimate, in-your-face and frankly quite claustrophobic, driven by John Goodman in one of his scariest performances to date — and that is intended to be the highest of compliments.

The setup is fairly simple. After Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is involved in a severe auto crash on a lonely country highway, she wakes up tightly tethered to a mattress on the floor of a subterranean, concrete bunker, shackled to the wall. Her captor, Goodman’s Howard, claims he saved Michelle’s life following her accident — and if he hadn’t, she would be dead like everyone else outside.

One of the things I truly loved about this movie was the way the writers — Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle — oozed out the details on every level. That includes that supposed external threat beyond the bunker, Howard’s own backstory and other factors regarding this deliciously twisted tale. Big kudos too go to first-time feature director Dan Trachtenberg, who has helmed this film with artistry, imagination and skillful precision.

This is a terrific movie that will keep audiences gripping their seats from start to finish, and a great deal of that is due to the magnificent acting jobs by Goodman, Winstead and co-star John Gallagher Jr., who plays the third resident of the bunker. We learn Gallagher’s Emmitt was Howard’s helper in building the basement shelter — but not whether his presence is voluntary or not.

Clearly, Michelle is not in the bunker by choice — at least not initially — and Winstead’s interpretation of the character is a marvel to behold. Michelle is bright, feisty and always on the alert to find a way to escape, at least in the early stages of her captivity. It’s a delight to watch her move from terror and fear of the unknown, to moments of warmth, playfulness and even glee.

Gallagher, too, deserves commendation for giving us an Emmitt who clearly isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but is perhaps more cunning than his external country-hick persona would lead us to believe.

However, the power of “10 Cloverfield Lane” lies mainly with Goodman. He controls every scene and he does it in such a mercurial way. One moment he’s the epitome of towering rage. The next he can be cajoling and flirtatious. The actor’s ability to turn moods on a mere twitch of his eyes or curl of his lip is one of the factors that makes this movie so downright compelling and scary as hell!

Unpredictability in cinema is frequently a missing element — especially when we’re talking about movies that fall into the horror or science-fiction genres. With “10 Cloverfield Lane,” there is no such problem. Trust me. There are many twists and turns presented here that you simply won’t see coming.

And that is a very good thing.


Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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