Following a mysterious accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens to find herself a captive in the farmhouse bunker of Howard (John Goodman), the man who saved her life. Michelle and a local man (John Gallagher Jr.) are told they can’t leave the bunker as a result of an apparent attack on the outside world that has left the air contaminated. Michelle isn’t fully convinced the situation outside the panic room is that dire, but she knows enough to know something is up. She also knows that Howard isn’t exactly what he seems. How crazy is Howard, and what are those mysterious noises coming from the surface?
I was urged before the screening of director Dan Trachtenberg’s spiritual sequel to Matt Reeves’ 2008 found footage shocker Cloverfield to not give away any potential spoilers. That’s an easy enough promise to keep in the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane since there’s not much in the way of spoilable developments unless one likes reciting the entire plot of a movie. That doesn’t necessarily make it an admirable or risible movie in and of itself. The performances and style make the film an admirable change of pace from its predecessor. The plotting and the final thirty minutes make it a risible film.
Whenever the film remains firmly ensconced in the bunker, Trachtenberg and his team of writers (one of whom is Whiplash filmmaker Damien Chazelle) get the chance to make a paranoid chamber drama. Winstead and Gallagher have a lot to work with and rise to the occasion as a strong skeptic and a sarcastic believer, respectively. Goodman delivers one of the best performances of his career; a portrait of constantly simmering menace. There’s an interesting dance between the actors and the ideaologies of their characters amid this possibly overblown apocalypse. Goodman’s latent, unspoken fear of being alone runs afoul of Gallagher’s desire for self-preservation and Winstead’s quest for answers in different and exciting ways. It’s admirably slow moving, yet sufficiently intense.
But very quickly, 10 Cloverfield Lane turns painfully obvious and idiotic. Trachtenberg is best at showcasing verbal showdowns, but not as adept at keeping his film’s countless MacGuffins straight. The film comes loaded with so many Chekovian guns (including an actual gun) and conveniently placed plot details that if an item it isn’t bolted down, it’s included in forwarding the story along to its ludicrously overblown set piece climax. In short, it cops out completely and frustratingly, but at least it’s upfront with eagle eyed viewers who can see where everything is headed long before it happens. As it progresses and the plotting turns out to be secretly lazy, huge suspensions of disbelief are needed to buy into what’s happening.
And that’s a shame since the first hour is rather excellent. Too bad those final 45 minutes are really painful.