FILM REVIEW – 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE. With John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.. Written by Josh Campbell & Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language. 112 minutes.
Whether you’ve seen “Cloverfield” (2008) or not–with its characters fleeing from an attack by a barely-seen monster–10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is going to seem like a very odd film. As a sequel, it owes virtually nothing to the original (except producer J. J. Abrams). It has different chraracters, a different location, and to the relief of many viewers, no “shaky cam” shooting technique.
We meet Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as she’s leaving her fiancee for unspecificed reasons. She’s driving along a Louisiana highway not taking his calls when her car is driven off the road. She wakes up in an underground cell presided over by Howard (John Goodman), who informs her that someone, it could be Russians or it could be Martians, has attacked. They are safe in the shelter he has constructed, but everyone else is dead. Everyone, that is, except for Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a young man who is also trapped in the shelter with them.
Most of the film is a three-character story where Michelle and Emmett plot to escape. The key question–not to be answered here–is whether Howard is telling the truth. At times we get hints that he knows what he’s talking about and at others that he’s mad as a hatter. He may have possibly killed someone. Until the final act, we can’t really know for sure.
The casting of John Goodman as Howard is inspired. He adds some real weight to the role, playing it ambiguously so that we go back and forth on whether his report of what’s going on outside the bunker is true. Just when we think we have a handle on it, something comes up to push us the other way.
As the feisty heroine, Winstead shows resourcefulness as well as the ability to convey her abhorrance of Howard’s decidedly old-fashioned concept of what her “role” is to be. Gallagher has the goofier part as someone who started out working for Howard but is beginning to wonder if he’s made the right choice.
The filmmakers get good use out the imaginatively designed bunker that has such homey touches as a jukebox and a collection of jigsaw puzzles and board games. They also play fair in setting up several things that will turn out to be crucial later in the film without having a neon sign flashing “Foreshadowing! Foreshadowing! Foreshadowing!”
As with the first film, this is pulp fiction material (no relation to the Tarantino film) and not to be taken too seriously. We see our heroine fall into a situation and wonder how she’s going to get out. Once she does, all bets are off.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” may not leave you screaming for a sequel, but it won’t leave you screaming for your money back either.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.