10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

It’s hard to write about this one.

Part of the problem is that it is deliberately structured as a bit of a shaggy dog story – but at the same time it isn’t shy about telling us that.

Of course, the title – and J.J. Abrams’ publicity leading up to its release – suggests that this film is somehow tied into the 2008 giant monster film, Cloverfield.  Not that it is in any meaningful way apparent when viewing this more or less sequel.  Supposedly there is a neon sign advertising “Slusho” somewhere in sight – not that it was really all that noticeable an element in the first film.

Michele ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whom I absolutely did not recognize as Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) leaves her fiance, but has a car accident before she gets very far.  When she wakes up, she’s chained in a cement block underground room and a soft-spoken doomsday prepper named Howard (John Goodman, in a solid but disturbing performance) explains that he saved her and the world outside has come to an end.  Also in the shelter is Howard’s handyman, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who, unlike Michelle, fought his way into the bunker.

We soon find ourselves caught up in a web of deceit and mysteries.  What are Howard’s real motivations?  Did he deliberately kidnap Michelle?  What is really happening outside? Is the air poisonous or radioactive?  Has there really been an attack?  Is it the Russians, terrorists or even the Martians?  And what explains the strange noises they’ve heard coming from the surface?

For most of its running time, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense little three-player drama with more than its share of shocks and secrets, where the characters’ hidden pasts and secret motivations are far more important than CGI creatures.  Although maybe it has those, too –  not that J.J. is about to tell us that, of course.

There’ve been a few bunker movies running around lately and what distinguishes this one is the performances and the writing.  All in all, it’s a pretty good genre movie.

Just don’t expect me to tell you whether it is Science Fiction or not.

 

 

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