10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg.
This movie was in our cinemas earlier this year. I have only just caught up with it on DVD. I'm glad I did.
It is a really taut, tight, psychological thriller that keeps you guessing until almost the end of the film. A young woman, Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is in a car crash after running away from her boyfriend following a row. She is knocked out, and when she wakes up she finds herself shackled to a bunk in an underground cellar. The cellar's owner, Howard (John Goodman), a much older, vaguely sinister and threatening man, tells how he rescued her and brought her to his underground survival bunker. He claims a global disaster has occurred outside, that human life has perished, and that the air is contaminated and no longer breathable. Only in his bunker, so he says, can life continue. She should be grateful he has given her sanctuary, and escape will only lead to certain death.
A third survivor, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), is in the bunker too, and he confirms Howard's story. He claims to have witnessed the global disaster in its early stages, and sought refuge in the bunker. Howard says they all might have to live there for a year or two before the air outside is, hopefully, clean and breathable. Michelle doesn't know whether or not to believe the two men. Her initial fears that she might be assaulted or raped initially prove groundless. Howard's story seems to ring true when another woman, bleeding and injured, turns up at the bunker and begs to be allowed in. Howard turns her away.
Michelle is on the point of believing Howard, when she finds evidence that he may well be implicated in the abduction and murder of another young woman sometime previously. She shares this news with Emmett and they secretly plan to escape the bunker. However, their plans are interrupted by a shockingly unexpected violent turn of events, when Howard reveals his true colours.
This is, in one respect, a very claustrophobic film – only three main characters, shut up in one bunker. You are immediately reminded of that other, recent, shut-up-in-a-room movie, "Room", which won an Oscar earlier this year. They both have similar themes: will the hero get out alive, and if she does, what will happen to her in the outside world? Both films know how to exploit to perfection the claustrophobia of the "bunker"-type situation, and crank up the tension, step by step, in a perfectly excruciating fashion. You were on the edge of your seat in "Room"; likewise, you will be in "10 Cloverfield Lane".
There is not much more I can say about this movie, without giving away the ending. It is not so much that the ending is a complete surprise. After all, it is basically a choice between whether Howard, sinister and cunning though he is, is right about the outside world, or is he making it all up just to keep his "guests" under control. Various clues in the movie point, in an annoying but tantalising fashion, both ways.
The performances are all good. I haven't seen Winstead in anything before, but I thought she portrayed the fear and confusion of her character very well. John Goodman, as the sinister Howard, is a delight to behold: as in most of his appearances on screen, Goodman captures the essence of his characters really well. Here, he shows Howard as alternately menacing, kindly, hospitable, and utterly ruthless. Which is the real Howard? Dan Trachtenberg, as a first-time director, does an excellent job of cranking up the tension to fever-pitch, before hitting you with an ending that is suitably exciting and nail-biting.
Although there is violence in this film, fortunately it is not of the same type or level as in the "Saw" movie franchise, that other example of "locked in a dungeon" films. One of the producers of "10 Cloverfield Lane", the Hollywood veteran JJ Abrams, also produced the 2008 horror/science fiction drama "Cloverfield". Whether the similarity of names between the two movies is of any relevance, I will leave you, dear reader, to ponder and speculate.
The movie is only a fraction over one-and-a-half hours long, so a thrilling story is wrapped up nicely and expeditiously. I watched it on a quiet Saturday afternoon, not sure whether it would turn out to be an afternoon well spent. It was. In spades.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * * 1/2