PLOT: After a vicious car accident leaves her unconscious, a young woman wakes up to find she's being kept in an underground bunker by a man who assures her the world is coming to an end.
REVIEW: I really, really liked about 90% of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, most of which is a taut, smart and suspenseful thriller that keeps its grip on you with a frightening scenario, intelligent characters and carefully-constructed, nerve-racking tension. The other 10% of the movie, the final 10%, is overblown and disconcerting, and I fear it'll ruin the entire movie for a certain segment of viewers. Thankfully, the conclusion didn't ruin the film for me, but it definitely left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth as I left the theater and thought about what had transpired. I won't dissuade you from seeing 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, however, because the good far outweighs the bad.
As for its connection to the J.J. Abrams-produced CLOVERFIELD, I won't waste too much time on that, especially since this weekend will see the release of a hundred think-pieces regarding how the two movies fit together. In my mind, they don't; they both use the title CLOVERFIELD as sort of a connective tissue in spirit. You should not go in expecting a CLOVERFIELD sequel or spin-off; just allow 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE to be its own animal.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead isn't really a "star" yet, but she finally should be after her turn as Michelle, who turns out to be an industrious, clever heroine, not a shrieking mess, even though the film could have made her just another weeping damsel in distress. Not that you could blame her if she was: Within the film's first ten minutes, her car is driven off the road horrifically; when Michelle wakes up, she finds she's been shackled inside of a bunker by a hulking, ominous stranger named Howard (John Goodman). Howard, despite proving to have a bitter, short-tempered personality right off the bat, assures Michelle she's safe where she is; in fact, he has saved her life. Not just from the wreckage of the car, but from a cataclysmic event that has occurred out there, on the surface. According to Howard, who has clearly been preparing for this, everyone on the outside world is now dead.
Not easy news to swallow, especially when you're stuck with a guy like Howard. As played by Goodman, Howard is alternately magnanimous and hostile, protective and intimidating. He talks a good game about how grateful you should be for his unselfishness, yet his generosity clearly comes at a cost. Goodman is phenomenal in the role; we've seen him play brutish characters before, but Howard is next-level scary. What's so compelling about the role, and the performance, is that even when he's telling the truth, he's sinister and off-putting. One of the movie's central questions is, even if this is the end of the world, would you want to survive for years with a guy like Howard?
Michelle and Howard are joined by Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a likable sort of guy who helped Howard build the doomsday bunker and evidently forced his way inside once the world started going to hell. The dynamic between the three is the central hook of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, and how refreshing it is to see a major genre movie revolve simply around three people, their words and actions, what we anticipate they'll do and what they end up doing. Navigating a conversation with Howard is as treacherous as any confrontation with a monster. Old-school suspense is alive and well inside this gloomy makeshift home, and for about 90 minutes director Dan Trachtenberg (his debut feature) creates some really excellent anxiety within the audience. This is helped along by a script (by Josh Campbell & Matt Stuecken and WHIPLASH's Damien Chazelle) that doesn't condescend to us or give us predictable beats; the characters are crafty, resourceful and dangerous (when they have to be), not just puppets to get from plot point A to plot point B.
It is a fact, for me at least, that the big finale - and we're all waiting for that big finale here - left me cold. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE turns into a vastly different movie abruptly during its conclusion; J.J. Abrams and his production company Bad Robot basically stapled an explosive, CG-heavy coda onto what was a tense, intimate drama, and it just doesn't fit. There's no question the movie is building toward something otherworldly, so that isn't the problem, but the way the film goes about it is frantic and kind of silly. If the transition had been handled in a slightly more subtle, eerie way, I would have been on board, but as it is I felt jarred out of a movie I had very much been enjoying and thrust into one I didn't dig.
Still, there's a pretty darn good movie within 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE for most of its running time; stellar performances from Winstead, Goodman and Gallagher, Jr., an imaginative screenplay and confident direction help create a rather splendid, albeit it really stressful, experience.