Monster Mash

There’s big trouble above and below in ’10 Cloverfield Lane’

10 Cloverfield Lane

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman & John Gallagher Jr.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

PG-13

Waking to consciousness after a car crash on dark highway, a young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), finds herself on a pallet in a leg brace, hooked up to an IV drip—and chained to the wall of a subterranean concrete bunker.

“Please let me go,” she fearfully, tearfully begs when she meets the man who brought her there as he delivers a tray of food. “There’s nowhere to go,” Howard (John Goodman) calmly tells her. “Everyone outside of here is dead.”

There’s been an attack, he explains, a big one—maybe chemical, maybe nuclear, maybe Russians, maybe Martians. “Luckily,” he reassures her, “I’m prepared.”

So begins 10 Cloverfield Lane, the “little” movie—with a small ensemble cast of three, filmed almost entirely in a tight, enclosed set—that comes with such big expectations. Beginning as a script called The Cellar, it later enlisted the writer-director of the critically lauded Whiplash, Damian Chazelle, to “whip” the screenplay into something with a bit more bite. When Midas-touch superstar producer J.J. Abrams came onboard, fresh off the blockbuster buzz of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and changed the title, fans went crazy with frenzied speculation: How would this movie connect to Cloverfield, the 2008 surprise-hit monster-movie smash about an extraterrestrial attack, that he also produced?

Questions abound in (and about) 10 Cloverfield Lane, and if you want them answered, well—you’re just like the characters. And also like them, you’ll have to stick around to the end of the film, a terrifically tense, tightly wound underground psychological thriller that eventually explodes wildly, violently upward and outward.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

John Gallagher Jr., Mary Elizabeth Winstead & John Goodman share close quarters in ’10 Cloverfield Lane.’

Is Howard an overzealous doomsday prepper, a conspiracy-theorist nut-job, a grieving father, a U.S. Navy vet who went off the deep end, all of those, none of those, or something else entirely? Why was Michelle in such a hurry to leave town that night? And what about Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the other guy in the bunker? What are those noises? Cars? Helicopters? Spaceships? Is the air outside really as contaminated as Howard says?

The mysteries mount, the clues pile up, the screws turn tighter and tighter, the distrust deepens, and claustrophobia and paranoia permeate every frame. Debut feature director Dan Trachtenberg, working with cinematographer Joe Cutter and production designer Ramsey Avery, creates an underground mini-labyrinth that teems with the details of Howard’s scarily obsessive mind—like a show home stocked from the Armageddon bargain bin of Bed Bath & Beyond.

Howard, Emmett and Michelle eat meals, play old board games, work jigsaw puzzles and listen to classic rock on an old jukebox in an artificial, increasingly edgy loop of normal domestic life. Frankie Valli’s “Venus” and Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” never sounded so ominous and foreboding.

When things really break loose, in the movie’s final sequence, fans of the original Cloverfield will finally be able see just how this movie connects to the previous one. And as the address in the title suggests, monsters can come in all shapes and sizes, in all kinds of places, above us, below us and even right beside us.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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