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Brilliant Goodman highlights entertaining and terrifying genre mashup '10 Cloverfield Lane'
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle in 10 Cloverfield Lane." - photo by Josh Terry
"10 Cloverfield Lane" 3 stars John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.; PG-13 (thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language); in general release

10 Cloverfield Lane is a fun and frightening blend of horror, suspense and science fiction that keeps twisting and turning right up to the final credits.

Technically, Cloverfield Lane is the sequel to 2008s Cloverfield, the J.J. Abrams-produced film about a monster attacking New York City, and Abrams also produces here. But the connection is more conceptual than narrative, built on providing the audience with a unique and limited point of view.

Cloverfield played out like a Godzilla movie that only let you see things from the perspective of the poor victims on the ground. Cloverfield Lane is about experiencing the apocalypse from the inside of a bomb shelter.

Our protagonist is Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young woman on the run from a bad marriage in Louisiana. We ride with her through the night as her desperate husband Ben (Bradley Cooper in a voice cameo) continues to call her cellphone, pleading with her to come home.

But any second thoughts are interrupted by a dramatic car crash, and when Michelle wakes up, shes hooked up to a primitive IV in a dark cement room, her right leg chained to the wall.

This is where we meet the charismatic oddball Howard, played by John Goodman. Howard is the keeper of the bomb shelter, and he rattles off house rules and comments on his pet alien conspiracies with equal matter-of-fact delivery. He somberly informs Michelle that she was saved in the nick of time from some kind of attack could be chemical or nuclear that has left the atmosphere contaminated. And theyre stuck underground for at least a year or two until its safe to come out.

On the plus side, they have company. Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) is a local guy a little closer to Michelles age that helped Howard build his shelter. He can verify that something really did happen; in fact, he had to fight to convince Howard to let him inside.

Howard is an enigma who inspires a flood of questions. Could he be telling the truth? Is he lying? Is Howard flat-out crazy? His extensive VHS collection includes titles such as Cannibal Airlines, so something has to be off somewhere.

Luckily, Michelle is every bit as resourceful as her gracious host/rescuer/captor, so Cloverfield Lane quickly becomes a series of dramatic escape attempts, crushing setbacks and plot twists that eventually leave you thinking that all of Michelles questions would be best answered with one simple, all of the above.

Fortunately for audiences sensitive to motion sickness, director Dan Trachtenberg hasnt chosen to interpret all this craziness through hand-held camera the same way Matt Reeves did with the first Cloverfield. The visuals are a bit more traditional, albeit claustrophobic, adding tension to an already stressful plot.

Even better, the intensity is enhanced by a wicked sense of humor, which is mostly centered around Goodmans character. Howard is kind enough to let you sympathize with him, but weird enough to keep you from ever getting too comfortable. He refers to a mysterious girl named Megan with the sad affection of a lonely parent, but theres no way to tell if Megan could be a petrified human skull he sings to behind his rubber ducky shower curtain.

Winstead is a strong foil, playing straight man to Goodmans quirkiness, and in a three-person cast, Gallaghers turn as Emmett is anything but a space-filler. Hes witty if not bright and a fun enough personality to keep Michelle rooted and away from total despair.

Cloverfield Lane stops well short of any R-rated horror content. But audiences should be aware that its still a very dark and scary film, even more so because it doesnt rely on the kinds of jump scares that get cheap frights in lesser films.

But if you have a taste for the macabre, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a worthwhile ride, and a helpful sign that a spring of cinematic promise may be ready to put a bleak winter to rest.

"10 Cloverfield Lane" is rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language; running time: 105 minutes.
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