10 Cloverfield Lane
*** out of ****
I remember, in my youth, going to see the movie, The 'Burbs starring Tom Hanks. The plot has a suburbanite (Hanks) attempting to reveal that the creepy new neighbors are a family of cannibals. Laughs were light, but what bothered me most is that the film never successfully kept you guessing and held no real surprises. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
The Louisiana-shot thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane, does keep you guessing and has some third act surprises. This distant relative of 2008's found footage monster movie Cloverfield begins with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) escaping from a soured relationship. She gets into a car wreck then wakes up chained to a wall with an IV in her arm. Enter Howard (John Goodman), who tells Michelle that he saved her from the wreck just before an “attack” on American soil, and that she is now safe in his bunker and must stay there until the fallout subsides, which may take a few years. Another “survivor” in the bunker with them is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a young man who Michelle confides in. She doesn't trust Howard and wants to find out what is really going on outside.
"I wish more horror and science fiction films of late would practice restraint instead of blowing their load and explaining everything away in the first few minutes."
Superb performances anchor director Dan Trachtenberg's debut feature. Goodman's nuanced performance has you swaying back and forth wondering if Howard is a raging psychopath or just a rather eccentric survivalist, and Winstead instills a smart and scrappy heroine that we want to root for.
The screenplay, credited to Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken and Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle, relies on a surprising amount of restraint, as it doesn't give away too much until its insane final act. Complimenting the suspense is a driving, full-blooded music score by Bear McCreary.
I wish more horror and science fiction films of late would practice restraint instead of blowing their load and explaining everything away in the first few minutes. Mystery is good. Watching a movie and trying to figure it out along with the protagonist is fun. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a smart, suspenseful thriller that holds some crazy yet effective surprises.