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"10 CLOVERFIELD LANE"
(2016) (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Suspense/Thriller: A woman must figure out whether a survivalist has kidnapped her in his underground bunker, of if he's truly saved her from an apocalyptic event in the outside world.
PLOT:
Michelle (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD) is a young woman who lives somewhere in the southern Gulf states and is fleeing her engagement to her boyfriend. As talk of widespread power outages dominates the radio news as she drives along, a truck suddenly clips her vehicle, sending her into a bad crash.

When she comes to, she finds herself banged up and cuffed to a pipe atop a mattress in a cinderblock room with no windows. Enter Howard (JOHN GOODMAN), a large man who states he's saved her from a calamity in the outside world where he believes a nuclear or chemical strike -- or possibly maybe even an extraterrestrial invasion -- has left everyone dead.

Michelle initially doesn't believe that and is certain she's been abducted, especially after meeting Emmett (JOHN GALLAGHER JR.), also there in that underground, survivalist bunker and likewise submissive to Howard and his strict rules. But Emmett eventually tells Michelle that he fought his way into that bunker -- that he earlier helped Howard build -- after seeing a bright flash of light he couldn't explain, but made him believe the worst had occurred.

From that point on, Michelle tries to figure out what's going on, as clues and discoveries mean that either explanation -- that Howard did abduct her or that the end of the world has occurred above ground -- is plausible.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Last year, Brie Larson starred in the drama "Room," and won an Oscar for that performance. She played a young woman abducted by a stranger and held captive for years in the small, titular location where she ended up with the challenge of raising a child and making his experience there as "normal" as possible for him, all while enduring weekly visits by her abductor, abiding by his rules, and trying to figure a way out of her horrible situation.

In "10 Cloverfield Lane," Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a young woman who wakes up, following a car accident, chained to a bed in some sort of underground bunker by a stranger (John Goodman). She must contend with frequent visits by him and endure his rules, all while trying to come up with a way to escape.

While obviously decidedly different sorts of films -- the first is a straight drama, this one's a suspense thriller -- the two movies share thematic elements of what it means to be trapped in one's environs, all while the state of the outside world remains a mystery.

Of course, in "Room," the young woman and her son weren't told everyone on the outside was dead from a chemical, nuclear or possibly even an extraterrestrial attack. Although our heroine here doesn't believe the latter is a possibility, fans of the 2008 alien invasion film "Cloverfield" know it's quite likely, what with what went down in that flick.

Mind you, this isn't an exact sequel, but it is operating in the same story universe as the first flick. Even so, the fun, if you will, that scribes Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle have concocted is in keeping both the characters (John Gallagher Jr. plays another person in the bunker, also submissive to the intense survivalist) and the audience on their toes wondering what the true explanation might be.

And like any good filmmaker, director Dan Trachtenberg keeps dropping clues that have you believing one way and then another, and then back again, all while ratcheting up the suspense. What it thankfully doesn't have is the first film's reliance on presenting the tale as so-called found footage.

That means that aside from a few moments of exception, cinematographer Jeff Cutter utilizes a tripod, Steadicam or at least a steady hand in shooting the scenes as compared to "Cloverfield's" non-stop barrage of shaky-cam footage (which resulted in yours truly, for the first time ever, getting motion sick from watching a film in a theater).

The performances are terrific, despite not really knowing much about the characters (although the script drops in enough revelations to flesh out some elements). Winstead plays the sort of heroine we've seen plenty of times before in abduction or trapped based stories, but the actress imbues her with enough nuance that you really want her to make it out. Gallagher Jr. is good as the sort of man who laments never escaping his comfort zone and then having this happen.

And Goodman is excellent in keeping us guessing about his character's true intentions throughout. By mixing in compassion with ominous behavior, he makes one wonder if Howard is a paranoid, survivalist nut-case whose ego is easily bruised, a good planner with the same issue, or a kidnapper with a good story to keep his hostage in line.

The rest of the tech credits are solid across the board, with Stefan Grube's editing adding extra oomph to both the action and suspense scenes, while Bear McCreary's score gives the flick an old-fashioned, throwback thriller vibe that's sorely missing in many of today's films.

My only slight issue with the film is the ending.

**SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT AHEAD**

Much like "Room," I felt the story would have been better served had the conclusion occurred upon the escape. That would have left the "what happens next" narrative in the mind of the viewer. While what's present here works in the context of the "Cloverfield" universe and delivers a decent action and suspense sequence, it changes the tone and genre of everything that preceded it. It's not a huge deal, but had the flick ended when the door to the outside world was opened, the viewer's imagination would have run wild with the possibilities and thus lots of post-movie discussions would have ensued.

Even so, I enjoyed the flick for a being a taut thriller that keeps you rooting for the protagonist and guessing -- until the end -- about what's really happening. "10 Cloverfield Lane" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 9, 2016 / Posted March 11, 2016


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