10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)


Rarely has an incredulous “Come on!” been spat with such vociferous exasperation as when delivered by Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character Michelle in 10 Cloverfield Lane. The outcry resonates for us because we share her disbelief one hundred fold. Up until then we’ve been taken on a journey to some place else, not a place we were necessarily expecting, but one rife with dramatic tension and the palpable fear of not knowing. And then, what, this left-field shift? Come on! Only it’s a good come on.
     We’re in Louisiana. Michelle has left her boyfriend, Ben (voice of Bradley Cooper of all people), after a tiff. She’s driving at night when she gets sideswiped by a pick-up and winds up in a ditch. She comes to in a stark concrete basement room handcuffed to a pipe (shades of the first Saw movie?) and hooked up to an IV. Her injuries appear minimal.
     Enter her savior and protector, Howard Stambler (John Goodman), who placed her here (in more ways than one). He tells her there’s nobody to call, that nobody is going to come looking for her. There is nobody. There was an attack, possibly chemical, maybe nuclear, it’s not clear who—the Russians, aliens, maybe the South Koreans (he means the other ones, the “crazy” ones) and there’s deadly radiation out there but they’re safe in a bunker of his own making. The three of them, that is. There’s another man, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) who, unlike Michelle, came of his own accord. He saw the devastation for himself, witnessed the cataclysmic event.
     We spend much of the film wondering, as does Winstead’s character, whether Howard is sane or psychotic, whether he’s telling the truth about what, if anything, happened outside. Michelle sees “proof”—a couple of Howard’s pigs horribly mutilated, a possibly-irradiated neighbor (Cindy Hogan) who comes blundering up to the bunker’s outside door, demanding access, and Emmett’s first-hand corroboration—yet she’s not convinced. Not until she can escape and witness the world, or what’s left of it, for herself.
     In 2008, producer J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves devised a tricky, handheld sci-fi parable called Cloverfield that threw unsuspecting audiences for a loop. 10 Cloverfield Lane was rumored to be a sequel to that film, and this time around director Dan Trachtenberg and his three screenwriters (plus, I daresay, a contribution or two from co-producers Abrams and Reeves) deliver a likely scenario that keeps us guessing until the very end. Winstead and Goodman are entertainingly good enough to carry what is, essentially, a two-character piece—Gallagher is satisfactory but has less screen time.
     All told, 10 Cloverfield Lane proves to be a real meat (the bunker scenes) and potatoes (the ending) proposition. The meat is satisfying and gives you plenty to chew over but come on! Those potatoes are pretty darned tasty too.

(c) 2016 David N. Butterworth

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