‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ stages tense, unique surprise

SOMETHING’S COMING – ‘10 Cloverfi eld Lane’ was completed in secret and announced only two months before its release date through a surprise trailer attached to ‘13 Hours.’

‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ is a different kind of beast. There has been no bigger film reveal of the year so far than the audacious spiritual sequel to 2008’s ‘Cloverfield,’ a crazed, found-footage monster movie that in itself was secretive. To this day, the secrecy that surrounded ‘Cloverfield’ in both its original reveal and the months following its release, echoed in the film itself; the act of watching it was a reveal on its own as viewers had no absolute truth as the movie progressed. It was a truly unique experience in this regard, and the movie itself still holds up as a blazingly fast and memorably frightening examination of NYC as it goes awry amid the awakening of a giant sea monster.

‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ seems to match these aspirations while also developing new ideas. Director Dan Trachtenberg infuses equal parts Hitchcock and Lovecraft into the film by maintaining tension while also scaring the bejeezus out of viewers in weird, unforgettable ways. It doesn’t possess the same maniac sensibility as its spiritual brother, but instead chooses tautness and subtle character moments that build to a dizzying and bizarre conclusion.

John Goodman is Howard Stambler, a farmer turned conspiracy theorist who has been building an underground bunker for nigh on many years with the help of local twenty-something Emmett DeWitt (John Gallagher, Jr.). The two have their differences, but when Goodman stumbles upon Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman who has recently left New Orleans in search of a better life, things get heated. Stambler traps Michelle underground along with DeWitt and claims that either a nuclear holocaust or alien invasion has devastated the population above ground, and advises her to stay with him in order to keep safe.

As for the plot, it’s best to remain reserved until seeing it. It might be hard to believe, but the movie is denser than the trailer might suggest. It’s a quick ride at 105 minutes, yet by the end it feels like a journey instead of something that was fleeting. This is partly due to the pacing, which is near perfect; it expertly spreads its reveals and revelations carefully throughout, using the most of its relatively short runtime to flesh out its small cast and build a convincing tension that bleeds through every scene.

The film also finds original footing in its acting. Stambler is an awkward, heavy-built man with anger issues stemming from his personal life. Goodman adds likability to the role, even when the audience wants to mentally stay away from him. It’s a mesmerizing role, especially for someone like Goodman, who can be simultaneously menacing and charming. However, the film never tries to make Stambler entirely charismatic or completely likable; he has an aura around him that is felt even when the character is off-screen. Winstead and Gallagher play off each other like two scared kids trapped in the closet, although the circumstances are much worse. They are characters you naturally want to root for, who grow over the course of the film and eventually become truly defiant and memorable.