Seven-plus years after the found-footage film Cloverfield brought back gigantic movie monsters in a really big and dizzying way, 10 Cloverfield Lane picks up the pieces and goes for a counter, but somehow intuitive, minimal approach.
Eschewing the first movie’s first-person cameraman style that induced a level of dizzy spells and motion sickness unseen since The Blair Witch Project, the blood-related sequel is the cinematic equivalent of a bottle episode with scenes of intense drama unfolding inside the confines of an underground doomsday shelter.
Aspiring fashion designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves New Orleans after her relationship with boyfriend Ben becomes untenable. Driving through a rural area, she takes her eyes off the road when Ben calls and is suddenly driven off the road after a collision.
She wakes up in a DIY doomsday shelter owned by the unsettling Howard Stambler (John Goodman), an obsessive-compulsive with a calm exterior who suddenly flies into fits of rage when his guests don’t obey his every command. Stambler’s spent a lifetime of resources to plan for the end of the world, and it’s finally come.
It isn’t exactly clear at first who or what has attacked who or where — is it the monster from the first movie or an alien invasion — but Stambler won’t let Michelle or Emmett DeWitt (John Gallagher, Jr.), a local who helped build the underground shelter, leave under any circumstances.
Winstead and Goodman are excellent in their roles, and the tension between the trio is palpable. Goodman basically disappears into his character, and his ability to channel a set of mannerisms and expressions not his own is a case study for aspiring actors.
While it might be hard for some to imagine how 10 Cloverfield Lane fills a run time a bit shy of two hours, especially with a cast list of 11 total actors in various acting and speaking roles, the movie actually runs at a brisk pace with a well written script, explosive plot points, and a final act that will either make or break the movie for you.
In terms of a sequel, it might not be what hardcore fans of Cloverfield expect. But either as a standalone movie or the second of a planned trilogy, it succeeds because everyone in the movie has bought in. The acting is top notch, the direction by Dan Trachtenberg keeps things focused, and the camera looks on as it reveals the potential within us all to be monsters or heroes.