Rather than a sequel or spin-off, this is a spiritual successor to 2008's Cloverfield, a terrifically tense thriller that builds a genuine sense of horror. Director Dan Trachtenberg deploys a range of Hitchcock-style tricks to establish characters and crank up layers of intensity, keeping everything unnervingly close to the boiling point. When everything finally erupts, the climax is exhilarating, even if it never quite finds a sense of meaning beneath the surface.
It opens as Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is packing up and leaving her flat, driving through the Louisiana countryside. Her fiance (voiced by Bradley Cooper) calls and tries to coax her into coming back, but she drives on determinedly. Then as the radio reports news of rolling unexplained blackouts, she's in a serious car crash and wakes up chained to a pipe in an unfinished room. Her host Howard (John Goodman) claims to have saved her life, bringing her to his fallout bunker just as everyone above-ground was killed by some sort of attack. And there's another guy taking refuge in the bunker, the rather goofy Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who like Michelle doubts Howard's story and rebels against his strict rules.
This is a rare film that manages to create thoroughly believable characters in just a few moments of back-story, then push them together in ways that continually surprise us. The snappy script uses wit and suggestion to undermine scenes with subtext as their power games escalate. So the tug of war between these three people has both subtle layers of intrigue as well as some seriously nasty conflict. Where this goes is impossible to predict, because all three actors are so good at portraying characters who are only pretending to trust each other. Goodman has never played a role like this, and is excellent as a nerdy religious nutcase who may or may not be a psychopath. Gallagher adds continual touches that undermine Howard's authority. And Winstead anchors the film as a smart, resourceful woman who refuses to accept anything at face value.
Continue reading: 10 Cloverfield Lane Review
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