10 Cloverfield Lane ✮✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
Howard, the John Goodman character in “10 Cloverfield Lane,” has a simple mantra: “Be prepared.”
Obviously a product of the Cold War/“Duck & Cover” generation, this burly Louisiana survivalist-conspiracy theorist thought ahead, built and stocked his own subterranean bunker in preparation for the day when we would be nuked by the Russkies or North Koreans … or visitors from an angry distant planet.
For Howard, Armageddon was a foregone conclusion; it wasn’t a matter of if but when.
Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakes from a car crash to find herself shackled to a wall in a nondescript room. “What are you going to do with me?” she asks Howard. “I’m going to keep you alive,” he tells her, unable to hide his exasperation.
Howard explains that his fears have been realized: The U.S. is under siege, and out of the goodness of his heart, he has rescued Michelle and a young neighbor (John Gallagher Jr.) from a lingering death by chemicals or radioactivity. She should be on her knees thanking him, instead of plotting escape.
Sounds reasonable enough. And yet … everything about her petulant, oddball host shouts “Kook!” What if he’s a certifiable nutter, a raving paranoiac, who has cooked up this elaborate doomsday scenario to hold her captive?
Ably directed by Dan Trachtenberg, here making his feature debut, and produced by man of the hour J.J. Abrams, who pulled off last year’s “Star Wars” reboot, this sustained three-hander is as compact and claustrophobic as its bunker setting. The situation can be boiled down to a single question: What’s outside? And though we admire how barebones the story is, that’s not what makes it work: This can be chalked up to Goodman’s creepy-to-avuncular performance — we admire the guy’s resourceful — and the script’s offbeat details (Harry watches Brad Pack tapes; a jukebox plays only vintage pop, such as Frankie Avalon’s “Venus”; the table in the common room is a family heirloom — so “always use coasters”).
Another plus: Bear (“Walking Dead”) McCreary’s unexpectedly lush score, which is reminiscent in places of Bernard Herrmann’s best work.
Intense doesn’t begin to describe this new release. Trachtenberg and company milk the premise for cascading cold-sweat thrills. Think Homer’s Cyclops stomping through a couple of 1960s “Twilight Zone” episodes about fallout shelters, and you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for. Bonus: Abrams fans will have fun trying to figure out how this film and the producer’s “Cloverfield,” about the devastation wrought by a Godzilla-like creature, are connected, if at all.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE ✮✮✮ With John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr. Directed by Dan Trachtenberg; scripted by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle. 105 min. Rated PG-13 (profanity, suggested violence, may be too intense for young teens)