2008’s Cloverfield was a trend-bucker, a jittery, ‘handheld’ hit known for the monster it didn’t show and the fear it did. It inspired many subsequent films across thriller and horror genres; it is surprising, then, that 8 years later 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sequel in spirit, but not in story.
In truth the less revealed about the story the better. Here is what can be told: Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead recalling her breakout role in Final Destination 3) is driving away from a relationship when she crashes her car. She awakes chained to the wall in a dimly lit room; think the first Saw film, but many levels less gross. There are two others with her: a grizzled older man called Howard (John Goodman) who seems to be in charge, and a younger, less irritable chap called Emmett (the underrated John Gallagher Jr). Michelle plans her escape, but quickly learns that may not be as easy – or as desirable – as she thinks.
Despite a high-profile cast, producer J.J. Abrams is the big name draw here, & his Midas-like fingerprints are all over the story. The whole piece looks and feels like an episode of Alias with Winstead in the Sydney Bristow role. An underground bunker that may be protecting or restricting its inhabitants recalls season 2 of Lost – while J.J.’s involvement had receded by this point, producer Bryan Burk was very much present and is on board here. Also involved from the Bad Robot production company is The Cabin In The Woods director Drew Goddard; that home invasion, it’s so hot right now. And only someone with Abrams’ clout can call in Bradley Cooper for a thirty-second phone voice role in the first 5 minutes.
With that calibre of talent, it is to be expected that thrills abound. The film is best when the scale is small. Winstead does wide-eyed fear as well as anyone, and excels when there is no-one else in the room – but possibly someone outside the door… Known for playing cheery, loveable types, it is Goodman’s casting that is more intriuging, as Howard is a humourless stiff constantly on the edge of outrage. He pulls it off though, that inimitable growl carrying notes of threat at all times. John Gallagher Jr. ably plays the third hand with the likeability he showed in Short Term 12 and The Newsroom; he draws both the audience and fellow characters in with just a smile, like a young John C. Reilly.
It is a shame that such strong actors are given one-dimensional figures to work with; while characterisation is not the focus, there is ample space to learn more about the triumvirate and their motivations. There are nods towards work as separate as Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit and Steven King (& Brian De Palma)’s Carrie, but the film can’t quite choose between chilling and kitschy, resulting in an insufficient amount of each. And as such setups often demand, the final act goes rather haywire; it threatens, although doesn’t manage, to overshadow the tension of all that went before. Luckily Bad Robot continues its tendency to draw the viewer in to the final shot. We know that whatever is happening now, it is headed towards excitement.
Be warned before watching this trailer; while it is carefully crafted to withhold as much plot as possible, if you want to get your fill of mystery, see the film first!