Waking up from a car accident, a young woman finds herself in the basement of a man who says he's saved her life from a chemical attack that has left the outside uninhabitable.
This intriguingly small-scale movie hints at a connection with the 2008 JJ Abrams production Cloverfield, yet there is no plot connection whatsoever, nor is it a “found footage” movie in the style of the earlier film. The script details were kept unusually secret prior to release, with even the trailer giving little away.
The basic premise is that Michelle (played by the versatile actress Mary Elizabeth Wnstead) wakes up after a car accident to find herself with a drip in one arm, her leg strapped up and manacled to a basic bed in a locked room. Not surprisingly, this turn of events causes her considerable unease, especially when the intimidating figure of Howard (John Goodman) appears. She assumes she has been abducted by a sexual predator, but Howard unchains her and offers her some crutches, explaining that there has been some kind of unspecified global holocaust (an “attack”) and that they are in his quite spacious underground bunker. It transpires that Howard, who once served in the US navy, is a conspiracy theorist who had built the well-equipped bunker several years previously, and kitted it out with extensive supplies, a generator and air filtration system. The implausible story is given substance when she meets Emmet (John Gallagher Jr) the other inhabitant of the bunker. The less than well educated Emmet helped build the bunker, and reassures Michelle that the arm injury he has sustained was not in an escape attempt. Rather, he was fighting to to get inside the bunker when the apocalypse came. As the story unfolds we are placed in Michelle’s point of view as she tries to discern whether the world really has come to an end with a ruined world above her, or whether she is trapped underground with a couple of lunatic conspiracy theorists.
The film has a first time director Dan Trachtenberg, whose award winning film short “Portal” also starts with a woman waking up in a locked room. He turns out to be a gifted film-maker, as despite the claustrophobic setting the film doesn’t drag for a moment, even during the domestic scenes in the bunker when the trio are having dinner or playing parlour games to pass the time. The build-up of tension is impressive as Michelle tries to probe the situation and assess her companions and their trustworthiness. Is the outside world really polluted or perhaps now populated by monsters (one of Howard’s conspiracy theories is that of alien invasion) or are the monsters with her in plain view in the bunker? The score by Bear McCreary (who composed the brilliant score to the TV re-imagination of Battlestar Galactica) is suitably unsettling without being intrusive. John Goodman, familiar from his many comic roles, is a revelation as the creepy Howard, who appears to be genuinely hurt at the lack of trust exhibited by Michelle, who he has apparently rescued from certain death on the surface. He manages to maintain a real ambiguity in the character, who on the surface is a far-sighted, albeit paranoid, individual who has had the foresight to prepare for the apocalypse. But does his story really hold water? The film’s conclusion is a genuine surprise.
10 Cloverfield Lane is an original and intriguing film that makes excellent use of its confined environment, and contains a remarkable acting performance from John Goodman that in itself is worth the price of admission.