If you remember Cloverfield (2008), which was set in New York City, then you might just get a hint of where this thriller is headed. Director Dan Trachtenberg’s thriller/mystery/horror sci-fi genre mash-up is set in the middle of Louisiana, on Cloverfield Lane.
The film opens with one of the two most effective sequences: a silent break-up and departure as Michelle (Mary Elisabeth Winstead) chaotically but silently packs her belongings and prepares to leave her partner Ben (voice of Bradley Cooper). She drives away from her old life towards an unmapped new one. A new report on the radio, which warns of power surges across some states, goes unnoticed. Nor does she notice the speeding car that’s about to shatter her world further. This is the second neatly executed sequence – the violent accident and Michelle’s tumbling car.
Michelle regains consciousness in a window-less cell. Her leg is chained to a pipe and a drip is attached to her arm. She panics and reaches for her cell phone, but there's no signal. A large man enters with a tray of food. Howard (John Goodman) says he saved her life not just from the crash but also from the toxic air outside that has killed everything following a chemical attack. Michelle is confused by this man’s oscillation between kindness and craziness.
At this point, you wonder if 10 Cloverfield Road is going to Misery meets Room, but we see that Michelle is not alone. Howard is also sheltering Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), a local handyman who has asked to take refuge in the very structure he helped Howard build.
From this point on you marvel at the production design of Howard’s doomsday bunker, which is equipped with a family room, toilet and enough food supplies, videos and board games (plus a jukebox) to see him and his guests through at least two years. The three-way piece is conducted in a claustrophobic space in which the air is heavy with fear and threats and the chances of escape are low. The sound design and music accentuate the vacuum and the discomfort between three untrusting adults trapped in uncomfortable confines.
John Goodman brings his A-game to the part of the tightrope-walking Howard who is at times kind and gentle and at others unhinged and cuckoo. Mary Elizabeth Winstead matches him note for note. She’s terrific as the wounded, frightened but determined young woman who is constantly searching for a way out. Gallagher adds a nice third front to the piece.
The suspense is built around the possibility of escape and the threat of what lies beyond and, worse still, within the sealed-off bunker. The climax is a bizarre and hard-to-swallow genre-shift with some plot points left frustratingly unresolved.
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