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Film Review

Don’t call it a comeback

3/16/2016

One thing that should be established from the outset is that “10 Cloverfield Lane” is not a sequel to 2008’s “Cloverfield.” Though both were produced by J.J. Abrams and share a naming convention, none of the characters returns, and none of the events from the first film is referenced in any way. Instead, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a separate story, apparently taking place in the same cinematic universe.

Sidebar: “10 Cloverfield Lane” PG-13 103 minutes Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

Sidebar: “10 Cloverfield Lane”
PG-13
103 minutes
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

The film centers on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and Howard (John Goodman). As the film opens, we see Michelle preparing to leave her fiancé for reasons that are never explained. She packs her bag, leaves her ring on the counter of their apartment and drives away. Heading out into the night, Michelle is involved in a car accident that leaves her upside down and unconscious on the side of the highway. She awakens to find herself locked in a fortified bunker, deep underground.

Howard, who says he found Michelle’s flipped car and brought her to safety after an unspecified attack that struck major metropolitan areas left the air poisoned with fallout, owns the bunker. Soon after coming to grips with her situation, Michelle meets Emmett, a young man who helped build the bunker and who pushed his way inside as Howard was locking the doors for the final time.

What plays out from that point is a magnificent thriller. Goodman is fantastic, and he brings just the right level of creepy intensity to a role that would have been comical in the hands of a less talented actor. Given roughly the same amount of information as Michelle, the audience is carried along with her as she moves from doubting Howard’s story to accepting the potential necessity of her situation. As the film pulls back the curtain, the pace slowly picks up until the film finishes with a break-neck, slightly bonkers finale.

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The original “Cloverfield” was a polarizing film. The decision to keep the monster at the heart of its story was a fresh take on the genre, but its shaky, first-person point of view was hated by many.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a better film than its predecessor. The previous film has more scary moments, but this film is more tightly told and far better acted. Even if the story does not hold you — and it may not, as some of the twists are telegraphed too early —  the performances will keep you invested. Goodman alone is worth the price of admission, as he takes the role of Howard and makes it something completely memorable. The scenes where he is alone with Winstead’s Michelle work especially well, as the physical size difference between the two actors make Goodman’s rumbling, volatile nature feel smothering, even when he is sitting quietly watching her eat.

For some people, the ending will feel out of place. For a film that leans completely on three actors in one or two rooms for 80 minutes, the frantic, over-the-top feel of the final 15 minutes will be jarring. For some, the difference in pacing and feel may even ruin the experience and make it feel like the film has copped out. But whether you wind up loving the ending or hating it, the path the film takes to get you there is absolutely worth a watch. CV

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