When it comes mystery, J.J. Abrams and his crew at Bad Robot are very good at it. Abrams has an uncanny knack at hooking viewers in with a good set up, a compelling middle act, and unfortunately, a spotty record on third acts. With “Cloverfield,” the movie deftly used the “found footage” genre to present essentially a Godzilla-like monster attacking New York City. The film was a fun thrill ride and there was an easter egg at the end of the film’s credits that, when played backward, says “It’s still alive” — more than hinting at a sequel.
That was in 2008.
Eight years later, Abrams, with director Dan Trachtenberg at the helm, brings us “10 Cloverfield Lane” an oblique sequel of sorts to “Cloverfield.” With “Cloverfield” we know a monster (well, a number of them) devastate New York City in an epic battle between the military and the invading creatures. “10 Cloverfield Lane” makes the conflict more psychological. Without giving away the mystery of the film (and there are more than a few), the shell of the plot centers on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is seen at the outset fleeing not from monsters, but her relationship with her fiance. While driving down a country road, Michelle is in a bad crash that sends her and her car tumbling off the roadway. She wakes up, chained to a mattress in a windowless room with an IV in her arm and a brace on her leg. Trying to figure out where she is and why she’s there, she soon meets Howard (John Goodman) who informs her of a major attack and how he saved her just prior to it. Howard isn’t the only person in the shelter. Emmett (John Gallagher jr.) is also there seeking safety from the attack. But since we’re seeing things mostly through the eyes of Michelle, there’s more than a little skepticism about what Howard and Emmett say about the end of the world.
The majority of the movie is spent figuring out what’s motivating Howard to both keep secrets and be completely honest about their condition. Since Michelle hasn’t seen this attack the audience is made to wonder if Howard is telling the truth, and part of the fun of the movie is guessing if it’s all a ruse to keep Michelle in the shelter.
Drew Goddard and Daniel Casey’s screenplay (based on a story by Matthew Stuecken and Josh Campbell) is tight, well thought out, and avoids the pitfalls of stock characters who face a future where the civilization they knew may no longer exist. The “Abrams Curse” of a lackluster Act III is broken in “10 Cloverfield Lane” as director Trachtenberg brings the story to a fairly satisfying conclusion with a lot of tense action and a main character who displays some resourceful survival skills.
If you do see “10 Cloverfield Lane” do your friends, family, and acquaintances who haven’t seen the film a favor, and keep the mysteries of the film to yourself. You’ll have plenty to discuss once your circle of friends are in the know.