The biggest trick “10 Cloverfield Lane” pulls off is that it casts doubt on whether it’s actually a sequel to “Cloverfield.” the low-budget, found-footage monster movie that was a surprise hit in 2008 — and surprisingly good.
The writers of “10 Cloverfield Lane” — newcomers Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken and Oscar-nominee Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) — didn’t work on “Cloverfield,” nor did director Dan Trachtenberg. The new film also has a new cast and a new setting.
Those hoping for a “Cloverfield” clone will be disappointed. The only apparent connections between the movies are that “Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard produced “10 Cloverfield Lane,” along with J.J. Abrams (credited with producing both). So … something is out there.
It begins as Michelle (the always good Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packs up her room in a hurry. She leaves her keys and a ring, takes her phone and a bottle of booze.
A car accident later, she wakes up in a concrete-and-steel room, her leg injured and chained to the wall. A man appears, Howard (John Goodman), who informs her that there has been an attack. The air outside is toxic, everyone is probably dead, and they are safe in his underground bunker.
Another fellow, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), is on hand. Clad in a baseball cap, beard and boots, he’s a contractor who helped Howard build the bunker. He came running for cover when he saw some kind of light in the sky.
Howard is a little… strange. Michelle doesn’t know what to believe, and neither does the viewer. She begins to plot an escape and we begin to think maybe it’s a good idea.
The filmmakers keep the mystery going, indicating that the movie’s not just another dashed-off attempt to cash in. The cast is another indication. The actors are well above average, conveying a wide array of emotional information in a limited space.
Nonetheless, the film does rely on cheap shocks. The sound mix seems to have been enhanced to make the music and effects louder than the dialogue, and every sudden clang and slam almost makes you jump. It’s unnerving and exhausting. A better film might have made more out of the slow-burning tension in the locked room.
Still, the movie is lively, spirited and prickly fun. When it gets to the climax, it stays true to its low-budget inspirations and finishes the job quickly and efficiently. As an example of a well-done genre film, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a monster.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Written by: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes