This looks like the start of something great.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a sequel to 2008’s unexpected hit “Cloverfield.” It’s not a duplication, nor is it exactly a continuation. Instead, it’s the moment a franchise finds out exactly what it wants to be.
It’s easy enough to recommend, but much harder to explain without giving the fun stuff away. What you need to know is that the film follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman who leaves her fiancé, gets in a car crash, and ends up in a bunker. There, she meets Howard (John Goodman), a man who has been preparing for the apocalypse his whole life. “Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come,” he tells her.
Howard promises Michelle safety from what he believes is a brewing nuclear war. She’s accompanied by another stranger, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.).
As with anything J.J. Abrams slaps his name on, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the project. What isn’t secret is its foundation. “Cloverfield,” seen from the point of view of a shaky camcorder, was a new twist on watching a monster destroy New York.
The biggest gripe about “Cloverfield” was that most of its characters couldn’t stand up to its compelling story and style. The first half hour of “Cloverfield,” pre-monster, is something of a drag.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” fixes that problem. The cast is small, and everybody is at the top of their game. Years after “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” this is the film that could make Mary Elizabeth Winstead a star. She gives off serious Ripley vibes here as someone who is pure survival instincts with a big heart.
Meanwhile, John Goodman is here to remind everyone that he is one of the best working American actors. I’ve never heard anybody sound so menacing while offering up a bowl of ice cream. And with intentions so unclear, he flawlessly plays into the central mystery.
It’s tough to think of many other mainstream movies today that use so little to produce so much. Director Dan Trachtenberg is masterful at creating terror just from the sound of a door opening. This is a horror movie about everything we don’t see. Abrams has spent a career talking about mystery boxes. Here, acting as producer, he finally places his characters inside of one.
Without giving away too much, “10 Cloverfield Lane” exists in the same world as its predecessor, but it is still its own thing. With every major player from Marvel and DC to “Star Wars” trying to connect every single dot in their universes, it’s refreshing to see a series that doesn’t care about continuity.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is going for something more along the lines of a modern “Twilight Zone” episode. Instead of sending its characters to a new world, it emphasises how they react to an unfamiliar situation on earth. And in the end, the slate will be wiped clean.
Let’s accept “10 Cloverfield Lane” for the intricate and intense piece of sci-fi it is. But as somebody who tries not to root for sequels all the time, I could see myself watching 10 different variations of this same story.
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