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10 Cloverfield Lane

John Goodman proves a horror movie lives on the power of its monster

After an apocalyptic disaster, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) find shelter of sorts in the bunker of Howard (John Goodman). <<© Paramount Pictures>>

“I’m going to keep you alive.”    
    These words chill Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Mercy Street) when she wakes up chained to the wall of an underground bunker. Her savior is Howard (John Goodman: Love the Coopers), an ex-Navy man who tells his captive that he saved her as a disaster ended most life on Earth.
    Michelle is skeptical, as one might be on awakening in underwear, injured and chained. But Howard swears his intentions are altruistic while the air outside is toxic. Eventually, he releases her from the chains.
    She meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.: The Newsroom), who fought to get inside this bunker. He offers Michelle vague reassurances of a light in the sky and bad things happening. She begins to believe.
    The problem is, the bunker isn’t safe either. Though it’s well stocked and comfortable enough, Howard is a malevolent benefactor. He watches Michelle constantly, creeps up behind her and flies into a violent rage when she doesn’t behave the way he wants.
    Should she brave the world? Or find a way to live with Howard?
    A claustrophobic thriller about three people hoping to survive each other’s company, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sequel in name only to the frenetic monster movie Cloverfield. This restrained, tense thriller focuses most of its horror inward, creating dark and disturbing feelings without special effects.
    Goodman excels. His Howard ranks with the most deeply unsettling characters ever created on the silver screen. Goodman obliterates his loveable-dad stereotype with Howard, a monster who is so frightening because he’s so believable. Everything about him is eerie, from his mood swings to his calm, nonsensical monologues. Goodman never pushes the character too far, and as a result Howard becomes more menacing. His every move is insidious, whether he’s pounding a fist into the wall or dancing to music on an ancient jukebox.
    As Michelle, Winstead lets her expressive face to do most of the work. She makes it clear that Howard makes her skin crawl. But Michelle is not a victim; she is a survivor, and Winstead gives a determined set to her jaw that tells us she will fight to make it.
    Making his impressive debut, director Dan Trachtenberg wisely allows the actors to do most of the heavy lifting, keeping camera work minimal. He shoots most scenes in uncomfortable close-ups, emphasizing the forced proximity of the bunker. Though it’s a great debut, the film flags at the end, which feels tacked on from a different script. Still, it’s a small flaw.
    A tight thriller with brilliant performances, this movie will give you goose bumps for years to come.

Great Horror • PG-13 • 103 mins.