We haven't had a legitimately crazy thriller in a while, have we? I'm not talking about a villain running around cutting up people. I mean, like, someone who is living their life as though they're a normal person in a world filled with "lunatics." Yeah, that kind of crazy that makes you think of Carrie's mom in Carrie. In fact, I thought a lot about Piper Laurie's performance as I watched John Goodman in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.
It's that kind of confidence, manipulation and savior complex possessed in a character that allows the actor to command every scene they're in (and leave a lingering sense of doom in the scenes from which they depart). So much so that you're never really sure whether it is safer with or without him in a scene. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is his newest bait, Michelle, who just barely escapes a brutal car accident at the top of the film and wakes up shackled to a bed in Howard's (Goodman) house. And the tension never leaves the story from there.
Michelle (clad in a cleavage-baring white T-shirt, mind you) seems like the type of character who I'd instantly write off as a female protagonist waiting for someone to save her (or die trying). But instead, she becomes dubious of her circumstances from the moment she arrives in Howard's well-sealed bomb shelter he calls a home, and plots her own escape. With Howard insisting that the outside world is the real villain, and that there's an airborne virus brought on by otherworldly beings, he sets the premise of what ends up being the most intriguing thriller so far of 2016.
And that's not just because of how uncomfortable it is to watch a woman trapped (with one other suspicious male character played by John Gallagher, Jr,) in the home of a middle-aged maniac, who continues to tell her that he is her only hope now in a world that's been decimated. It's because deep down you know that this isn't even the biggest threat in the story; it's just the most immediate. Are there aliens spraying a fatal virus in the air? Is Howard's home the safest place to be right now, with its bolted doors, barrels of perchloric acid, and photos of mysterious young local women who have gone missing?
Director Dan Trachtenberg, with his first full length feature film, creates an aptly unsettling, claustrophobic setting in the bowels of the last real home on Earth. Teaming with her Oscar-nominated screenwriter Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) , Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken, Trachtenberg presents a smart, taut thriller that plays to the mass paranoia and hopelessness of a modern-day dystopia. It proves you don't have to go to the year 2075 to incite the same level of emotion and paralyzing fear.
Meanwhile, can we talk about how badass Michelle is? I mean, I rolled my eyes when she is first introduced in the film, but Winstead turned that around (and does change her shirt later). She is forced to become a new-age Ripley, using her wits to be her own hero--against all odds.
Unlike the first Cloverfield film, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE stays with you. It's well acted, nuanced, and surprisingly effective. A definite must-see thriller.
Rating: B+ (**** out of *****)
Watch a new :30 spot from the film: