It’s hard to discuss 10 Cloverfield Lane in any detail without ruining it for you. Yet, this much can and should be said: the film has little in common with 2008’s Cloverfield, despite the involvement of producer JJ Abrams. For starters, this is not a found-footage monster movie, but a sly thriller with riveting performances at its heart. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of scary moments.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has just decided to leave her boyfriend when she’s involved in a terrible car accident. When she awakes, she finds herself held captive in an underground bunker built by a hulk of a man named Howard (John Goodman). He tells her that he saved her life, that America has been attacked and the atmosphere outside is toxic, and that she will only make it alive if she stays here with him. Naturally she’s skeptical, but another survivor locked in with them, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), corroborates Howard’s story although he appears equally wary of the big man’s volatile mood swings.
What follows is a tense, twisted, mood piece in which each of the three paranoid survivors variously trusts and suspects each others’ moves and motives. Is Howard eccentric or delusional? Is he their savior or captor? Can Emmett be trusted? The answers to these questions are revealed over the course of the film’s nail-biting 1 hour 45 minutes running time, and first-time director Dan Trachtenberg knows exactly how to evoke a sense of claustrophobia and impending doom.
While the horror that unfolds in the film is largely of the psychological kind, you’ll be glad to know the script throws up multiple twists that you probably won’t predict. Winstead and Gallagher play their parts with conviction and credibility, but the tour de force performance comes from Goodman who skillfully walks the tightrope between creepy and misunderstood, keeping us guessing about his intentions till the very end.
Evocative of Hitchcock in the manner that tension mounts throughout, 10 Cloverfield Lane ends on a surprisingly underwhelming note. It’s the one significant complaint in an otherwise impressive film that keeps your pulse racing. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.