It was hard to know what to expect from 10 Cloverfield Lane. Just like the current film’s 2008 found footage monster mash progenitor, the offering now in theaters was unleashed with little fanfare aside from some minimal viral chatter and the being produced by nerd god extraordinaire J.J. Abrams. Going in that cold can always be a blessing though, an experience usually reserved for foreign and indie horror, as aside from some questionably wrongheaded aspirations towards franchise building, 10 Cloverfield Lane proves itself an effective little horror/suspense potboiler and an eerily prescient commentary on the nature of privacy and protection in a post-ISIS landscape.
Speaking of going in cold, as long as they’ve avoided major spoilers audiences will find themselves just as overwhelmed and disoriented as main protagonist Michele (a definite star turn from Scott Pilgrim’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead), waking up chained to a pipe in a locked room after a disastrous car accident. Said bunker belongs to Howard (John Goodman), who claims that a mysterious chemical warfare attack has made the air outside unbreathable, and their only hope of survival is to stay in the bunker “for a year or two”, but as violent and deadly cracks begin to appear in his carefully constructed backstory, Michele must make a life or death choice between the dangers within and the dangers without.
Goodman’s innate ability to effortlessly transition from caring (if somewhat rough around the edges) protector to raving lunatic carries the film and makes Winstead’s peril wholly believable, though her performance as a plausibly capable Ripley-esque feminist heroine is also a joy to behold. As previously stated, and without spoiling anything. some late game world building does feel a bit tacked on and somewhat damages the effectiveness of this standalone film’s narrative as a whole, but as it exists 10 Cloverfield Lane is the most pleasant of surprises at the mainstream box office, a thriller that doesn’t force you to turn your brain completely off. If Abrams wants to unfurl a “Cloverfi3ld” in a few years that brings the whole thing together, I won’t be the least bit mad at him.