“10 Cloverfield Lane” has been somewhat advertised as a successor to “Cloverfield,” the smash monster movie from 2008. While it supposedly takes place in the same universe as that other film, this movie stands alone, mainly because of its outstanding performances, eerie setting and some sucker punches you are happy you don’t see coming.
John Goodman stars as Howard Stambler, a former Navy man turned doomsday prepper who saves the life of a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) after a fatal car accident. He brings her down to his emergency bunker and tells her that strange apocalyptic occurrences have been happening and that the only safe place is in his basement.
Howard and Michelle are joined by Emmett (John Gallagher Jr., looking like a younger Keanu Reeves), another survivor. Together they wait it out and, in the meantime, they find constructive ways to occupy their time; puzzles, B-horror movies and songs on Howard’s old jukebox. Hey, if you’re waiting on the apocalypse, you might want to make good use of the last few remnants of civilization at your disposal.
The more time they spend together, the more Michelle and Emmett start to think it’s a trap, and the more paranoid Stambler becomes. Soon, they’re not sure whether they can trust Stambler or each other.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is Dan Tratchenberg directorial debut. He’s a master at providing Hitchcockian pacing. He doesn’t like to hammer with shock. Instead, he gives intriguing, character-driven scenes complete with moments of unexpected humor. Then the real fun begins.
It’s tempting for a filmmaker to splatter the screen with thrills and special effects, but Tratchenberg and J.J. Abrams as producer do something even riskier: They try to blow our minds. The movie’s only weakness is the climax, which turns out to be a double-edged sword. It cheats itself because the whole film has been about maintaining atmosphere and suspense, and it does away with that in its final moments.
Despite the anticlimactic ending, this is a white-knuckle thriller, and it leaves you with a feeling that you don’t get very often in movies: Praying for a sequel. Now do yourself a favor and don’t talk about this movie with anyone unless you are going to see it.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, including frightening sequences of threat with some violence and brief language.
Hall is a syndicated columnist in South Georgia.