After all, atypical was the only way to go, right? “Cloverfield”, a terrific little horror gem from 2008, that launched a perfect marketing campaign, and also served as a 9/11 parable. It was so beautifully choreographed, plus it clocked in at under 90 minutes–and it grossed seven times its budget. Sequel talk was immediate. But how do you pull that rabbit out of the hat a 2nd time? This is how. With only the most tenuous connection to the original film, “10 Cloverfield Lane” turns the original plot thread on its head. Instead of a besieged metropolis, we’re given a single farmhouse basement. Yet it wonderfully compliments the first film, and its claustrophobic setting even manages to enhance it. Dan Trachtenberg has an impressive feature debut–and possibly a franchise.
Michelle (a quite good, Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is driving through rural Louisiana, after abandoning her fiance in New Orleans. As the night rolls in, she begins hearing bizarre reports on the radio about cities having power outages. All of a sudden–she’s distracted enough to get involved in an accident. Knocked unconscious for a time, Michelle wakes up in a cement room chained to a pipe. Eventually she meets Howard, a sixtyish, overweight man, who explains that some type of attack has destroyed most of the outside world, and that he saved her after pulling her from a wreck on the side of the road. They are now holed up in his underground bunker, along with another, younger survivor (John Gallagher, Jr., who deftly plays Emmett), who helped Howard design the shelter. But soon loud noises are heard on the farm above. And Michelle and Emmett, who at first try to trust Howard while residing in his elaborate compound, begin to question if his apocalypse claims are accurate.
John Goodman is fantastic here. I mean, he’s only one of the best character actors in the history of motion pictures, right? As Howard, he takes turns seeming malevolent, sensitive, creepy, trustworthy and brutal. A great actor who easily finds the right tone for everything. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is not unfamiliar to me, but I was never as impressed with her as I was here. A meaty survivor role, with which she proves to be a strong actress. Her movie star good looks compliment and enhance the role beautifully. And Mr. Gallagher, Jr., a Tony-winning stage performer is impressive in rounding out the trapped triumvirate. I’ve read that the makers of “10 Cloverfield Lane” consider it a spiritual successor to the first feature, instead of a straight sequel. I’ve also heard that this project started out as an entirely different project and then morphed into this. Either way…bravo. It’s tense, cloistered, economical and mostly fat-free. And except for one bit of overkill in the penultimate scene, “10 Cloverfield Lane” proves a worthy follow-up. More? Bring it on.