10 Cloverfield Lane starts with a great setup: a woman , Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) abruptly leaves her boyfriend. As she is driving away she gets into a traffic accident. She wakes up in a windowless room with an IV drip in her arm and is handcuffed to the wall. Her captor, Howard (played by John Goodman) informs her that she is in an underground bunker and that he saved her from certain death as the above world is now poisoned due to an unspecified apocalyptic attack. Also in he bunker is a young man, Emmett (played by John Gallagher, Jr. ) At first it seems as though Howard has both of his captives’ best interests in mind, but it quickly be comes apparent that his actions indicate otherwise. This tension between what Howard says and what he does drives the story and creates a palpable sense of foreboding.
The strength of the film is that the film makers never really let the audience know what is actually happening until the very end. Howard is clearly unhinged, but is he wrong about his conspiracy theories? Some of what he says seems to be somewhat consistent with the truth but his penchant for severe overreactions makes him truly frightening; he carries a holstered revolver on his hip, despite the fact that neither Michelle nor Emmett are a physical threat to him. His erratic behavior makes him unreliable, but doesn’t necessarily make him wrong. John Goodman is a standout in his role in this film, turning in a chilling but nuanced performance.
Winstead portrays Michelle as a survivor: smart and resourceful. It’s nice to see a female character portrayed in this way rather as some shrinking violet who needs a man to save her. Michelle soon realizes that staying with Howard might be much more dangerous than anything she might face outside the bunker. She formulates a plan to escape which results in unintended, deadly consequences.
It isn’t until the last 10 or 15 minutes that the film makers let the audience in on what is really happening. At this point there is a huge relief of tension but overall there is no real resolution.
This film does not fit neatly into any one category. It is part psychological thriller, part monster movie, part horror film, and part kidnap movie. All these elements are combined to good effect, making it one of the better films which has come out this year.
Worth a look if you like taut, genre-defying psychological thrillers.
Skip it if disaster films set in bunkers make you claustrophobic.
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