Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.
Written by: Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language
Running Time: 103
Date: 03/11/2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Crimson and 'Cloverfield'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The biggest trick that 10 Cloverfield Lane pulls off is that it casts doubt on whether it's actually a sequel to Cloverfield (2008), that low-budget, found-footage monster movie that was a surprise hit — and surprisingly good.

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, 10 Cloverfield Lane has a whole new batch of writers, newcomers Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken — as well as Oscar nominee Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) — and a new director, Dan Trachtenberg. It even has a new cast and a new setting.

Those hoping for a Cloverfield clone will surely be disappointed. The only clue is that original director Matt Reeves, writer Drew Goddard, and J.J. Abrams, are all here as producers. 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 here in his underground bunker.

Another fellow is also on hand, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a contractor clad in a baseball cap, beard, and boots, 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 that's a good idea.

That the filmmakers keep the mystery going is an indication that this is not just a dashed-off cash-in attempt. The cast is another indication. These three actors are well above average, conveying a wide array of emotional information in a limited space.

Yet the filmmakers can be faulted for falling back on cheap shocks. The sound mix seems to have been enhanced to make the music and effects louder than the dialogue, and the result is that every sudden clang and slam can make you jump. It can be unnerving, exhausting. A better film might have made more out of the slow-burning tension in the locked room.

But this is still a spirited movie, lively 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.

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