10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Dan Trachtenberg
STARS John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 10 Cloverfield Lane (Photo: Paramount)
The title and the behind-the-scenes personnel suggest that 10 Cloverfield Lane is going to be a follow-up of sorts to the 2008 horror hit Cloverfield, but the initial going seems to veer more in the direction of Room, the recent critical darling that earned Brie Larson a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actress. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young woman fleeing from a failed relationship, is ignoring a cell call from her ex (cue voice cameo by a big star, a la Harvey Keitel in Inglourious Basterds and Sigourney Weaver in WALL-E) when her car is rammed and she's knocked unconscious. She wakes up in a locked room, chained to the wall as the prisoner of Howard (John Goodman).
Unlike Room's Old Nick, though, Howard seemingly has no plans to rape or kill Michelle; instead, he insists he saved her from the auto accident for her own protection. If Howard is to be believed, the rest of the world has been wiped out through poisonous air (released by the Russians? The military? Aliens? He isn't sure), and the only survivors are himself, Michelle and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the sweet if simple handyman who spent years helping Howard construct his underground bunker. Howard eventually releases Michelle from her confined quarters and allows her full run of the makeshift home (which includes a kitchen and a living room), hoping that the three of them can spend the next one or two years coexisting as a happy family until the outside air is breathable again. Michelle, however, makes every effort to escape, all the while wondering if there's any truth at all to Howard's whopper of a conspiracy theory.
This is the part of the review where I promise not to reveal more for fear of spoilers, but honestly, what is there to really spoil? 10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that ends up being too clever for its own good, becoming utterly predictable in its relentless attempts at unpredictability. When the plot looks as if it will thrust, it of course will parry, and the film further dilutes any genuine surprises by often telegraphing its intentions ahead of time. The trio of scripters also cram in one subplot too many, with its clumsy presence only there to spin the story off into another (expected) direction.
This isn't to say 10 Cloverfield Lane is a bust — the terrific performances by the three leads and debuting director Dan Trachtenberg's effective staging (the bunker atmosphere alternates between friendly and foreboding) are worthy enough to earn this a modest recommendation. Just don't expect many more surprises than one would reasonably find in any given episode of Scooby Doo.