Tuesday, March 22, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016)

Having left her fiancé, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is not in a good place emotionally as she drives across Louisiana in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. After being knocked out during a nighttime car accident, she awakens in a bad physical place. She finds herself on a mattress with her right leg chained to the wall of a locked concrete room. Michelle is visited by Howard (John Goodman), who informs her that he saved her life by pulling her out of her wrecked car and bringing her to his bunker while an unspecified attack has rendered outside uninhabitable. He isn’t clear on what specifically has happened. All he knows is that everyone Michelle knows is surely dead.

In time Howard grants her more movement around his well-stocked underground shelter. Also occupying it is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who helped build the bunker and rushed to it for safety when the unknown event happened. Emmett and Michelle don’t fully trust Howard, who comes off as a paranoid survivalist, but with his broken arm and her injured leg, they are limited in their abilities to physically overpower him. The limited information they have about what’s going on above ground also discourages a possible escape. For now they’re better off playing board games, doing puzzles, and enjoying whatever other entertainment options are available while biding what could be a couple years until it’s safe on the surface.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE exists within the same universe as Matt Reeves’ 2008 thriller CLOVERFIELD, although the films stand as separate works that lack overlapping characters. Such knowledge is a tip-off to the mystery about what the trio is burrowed away from, but the greater uncertainty lies in Howard’s motivations. By preparing for a doomsday scenario that seems to have arrived, his suspicious nature is validated. Howard is weird, but the limited evidence also means that he’s correct. Goodman plays Howard as a creep emboldened because his fears have become manifest and thus allow him to exert excessive influence on what Michelle and Emmett can do and say. Goodman is terrific straddling the line of acting like those around him have the freedom to do as they please while never letting them forget that he holds their fates in his hands. Sometimes it’s what he implies, like telling Michelle that she’ll learn to enjoy cooking. In other actions the threat is explicit, such as the fact that Michelle is still locked in that barren room at times. Goodman is often scarier as Howard when he’s putting on the appearance of being nice, which poorly disguises whatever pathology drives him.

Winstead is excellent at showing how Michelle maintains the peace around a volatile personality. She locates the character’s strength by having Michelle play along with whatever placates Howard even as she schemes to find out the truth of the predicament for herself. There’s not much meat to the part, but Winstead brings solid determination to it.

Director Dan Trachtenberg maximizes the tension in close quarters, whether it’s the stifling experience of bunker life or the claustrophobia of crawling through a ventilation shaft. Even if the three people living there were on good terms, at some point it would feel like the walls are closing in on them. Every word and movement is heightened in this tight thriller because upsetting the fragility of the environment can be the difference between life and death.

Grade: B

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