Imagine you woke up in an underground bunker, injured, dazed and handcuffed to the wall. Then a strange man comes in and tells you that the world as you know it is over and he has saved you from the apocalypse. By now you’d probably be freaking out. This is the dilemma that Michelle faces, played by the impressive Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Her capturer is John Goodman, who plays the grizzled Howard and the other ‘guest’ in the bunker is Emmett played by John Gallagher, Jr.
Howard is a survivalist, that’s right, one of those crazy people who actually prepares for the end of the world, but he’s laughing now, well not really laughing more just saying he told you so. Howard doesn’t want Michelle to leave, he believes the outside air is toxic, and even though she is wary of his claims she has no choice but to stay. Together they form a sort of dysfunctional family, with Howard the daddy to his little girl and Emmett the nice but dim-witted brother to Michelle.
The film started as a spec script written by Josh Campbell and Matthew Stucken but when it was picked up by Bad Robot productions it became the sort-of sequel to Matt Reeves’ sci-fi hit Cloverfield. The film is not really a sci-fi though; rather it is an intimate character study. Mary Winstead is brilliant as the resourceful Michelle. She never becomes the victim her character could so easily have been; instead she’s always planning her next move, fighting for survival. This is John Goodman’s film though, by far his best performance in years. He adeptly flits between menacing and sympathetic. You never know when he might snap and you never truly feel comfortable when he’s around.
Reminiscent at times of Signs, this horror focuses on real psychological fear. It revels in the fear of the unknown — never truly knowing what is on the other side of the door. This is a grounded horror film, deriving its scares from a twisty plot that never delves into melodrama. If this is the future of Hollywood sequels then I am excited. Great writing and great acting make for a great film. It’s that simple. And 10 Cloverfield Lane nails them both.
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